Are we entering a new era of protest in the United States?
Postcard mailed from Washington DC to Seattle Washington in November 1969.
Past articles that address community protest and media include "Grassroots protest communication capability in the city" and "Washington, DC and protest." Also see "Local history museums and critical analysis opportunities for communities."
The latter piece discusses the role of Washington, DC as the national capital and as a location for people to come together and protest, from Civil Rights to Women's Issues to Abortion to Anti-War to Politics.
The 1960s Anti-war protests were probably the peak of regular protest movements and actions, in DC and around the country.
With the election of Donald Trump as President, there have been repeated protests in DC, across the country, and even around the world--which is remarkable.
Protests happened immediately after the election, in NYC around the Trump Tower, on the day of the Inauguration, the Women's March the day after the Inauguration--more people came to the protest in DC than to the actual Inauguration, at airports ("Thousands protest against Trump travel ban in cities and airports," Guardian) in response to the Executive Order banning travel to the US of people from seven Middle Eastern countries where the populations are predominately Muslim.
They arrived during a big Anti-War protest, the "Moratorium," and the message comments on how the protest made getting around difficult, that streets were closed, and also full of people.
I had been meaning to write a piece speculating about whether or not we are entering a new era of frequent protest, and in the interim, the Washington City Paper published a great piece on the topic, "District of Protest: How D.C. Will Foster Political Expression in the Era of Trump."
Amanda Kolson Hurley writes:
Not even two weeks into the Trump presidency, it’s becoming clear that large crowds taking to the streets to oppose his administration won’t be a rare occurrence. It’s hard to predict all the consequences for the city, but here are a few to expect.Some other points. (1) Social media makes it a lot easier to organize demonstrations ("The Machinery Is in Place to Make Trump Protests Permanent," WIRED Magazine).
... It’s debatable how long the current mood will last before fatigue sets in. In the meantime, near-daily protests are a potent reminder of how flexible and accommodating our main civic spaces really are. L’Enfant, Washington’s planner, called the Mall his “public walk” and saw it not as an unspoiled green but a bustling space akin to the Champs-Elysees in Paris. He described the future city of Washington as a “system of movement”—which is exactly what it became on Jan. 21.
- Citizens will feel a stronger sense of ownership over urban space
- The scale of D.C.'s monumental core will again be a feature, not a bug.
- More frequent protests will underscore our dependence on Metro.
- "Protest is the new brunch."
(2) Anarchists will seize the opportunity to be violent at protests and this will make it easy for anti-progressive forces to decry, discount, and demonize protest. Organizers will have to develop much more sophisticated approaches and responses if they don't want to be ignored, and if they want to move change forward, instead of being sidelined.
A UC Berkeley graduate student, Melissa Batchelor Warnke, has a great op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, "Berkeley protesters just fell into the most obvious trap imaginable. Again," discussing recent protests there around the talk by alt-right personage Milo Yiannopoulos. From the article:
What was originally billed as a peaceful protest quickly turned violent. The bigot didn’t end up speaking to a crowd of several hundred students. Instead, he spoke to a crowd of millions, during an extended interview on Fox News and a series of rants on his Facebook page, where he claimed he’d been evacuated from the campus. ...
East Bay protests are often overrun by relatively small numbers of black bloc anarchists, who hijack the message and the intent of these events. Imagine the peaceful protesters anticipating that would happen, and making clear contingency plans for it. Imagine the bigot strolling out into a near-empty plaza, confronted by his own irrelevance. Imagine students moving far away from the black bloc when it became violent, and holding an equally powerful show of nonviolent disgust, rather than gaping and building the anarchists’ crowd. Imagine another student group hosting a well-attended speech on the history of justice movements at UC Berkeley to coincide with his event. In any other scenario, the bigot would more than likely have gone on being the same fragile, cold-hearted creature he was when he arrived, with the same number of devotees. After tonight’s actions, he has many more.
(3) In DC, WMATA successfully handled the transportation needs for the Women's March ("Women's March on Washington vs. Inauguration: March crowds take lead," USA Today) when mostly for the past couple years, Metrorail has been an incessant series of failures. The success--the day was Metrorail's second highest ridership day ever, with over one million rides--was nice to see.
Considering how long social change takes (think of the incidence of tobacco use, dating to the Surgeon General report in 1964 and later steps concerning advertising on television, secondhand smoke bans, etc.), given that the US got out of Vietnam, that LBJ didn't run for president again in 1968, that Richard Nixon was forced out of office because of Watergate, not to mention Civil Rights and Women's Rights gains, it's fair to say that the 1960s protest movements did not fail, but succeeded wildly, in a society where there are many political barriers to social change.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is a good example that shows not having an agenda doesn't help propel change forward. And a counter is that the conservative Tea Party movement was successful in propelling change, because they were able to manipulate the bias within how political districts are set up for State Legislatures and the House of Representatives. See "Beyond Zuccotti Park: Book and Exhibit."
The Whole World is Watching, which analyzed the impact of media coverage by the New York Times and CBS News on the anti-war group, Students for a Democratic Society, is well worth reading about how media coverage influences advocacy groups and how they are perceived, although compared to the minimal world of media back then, and the explosion of online media and social media directly controlled by participants, the world of political action is much different today.