I immediately rejected the idea of the protest, believing it to be an outdated outlet for anger rather than a useful tool to effect change. Growing up in Portland, Ore.-one of the nation’s biggest bastions of liberalism-conditioned me to the realities of angry protests. This summer, I became accustomed to throngs of angry hippies blocking freeway traffic along my drive to work. They held signs indicating that their actions were in protest of the war in Iraq.
Perhaps they imagined that they were forcing people to stop and think about the consequences of their dependence on fossil fuel and its repercussions under the current administration’s foreign policy. I would be willing to bet, however, that a much more prominent thought among the drivers stopped by these impromptu protests was something more along the lines of, “Why doesn’t someone get these obnoxious wackos off of the freeway so I can get to work on time!” See, that’s the trouble with these protests in the context of today’s society: Nobody outside of the ultra-liberal community really takes them seriously.
Take Portland’s Tre Arrow, for example. He has made national news on multiple occasions for a number of outrageous protesting “stunts,” including a long period of time he spent chained to the top of a tree as it was cut down from underneath him. He was arrested recently while evading federal officials in Canada after allegations connecting him to arson at two different industrial sites. He is currently facing extradition to the U.S.
To those outside his circle of faithful followers, Arrow is viewed as just another wacky liberal. Arrow’s actions-and those of angry protesters like him-send the wrong message to fellow Americans. They only support the negative stereotypes that the right has conveyed about liberals for years: self-righteous, un-American, dangerous radical idealists who are out of touch with what America really wants.
During the Vietnam War, people seeing TV footage of police reacting violently to protesters on a college campus might have responded with shock or despair at the realities of the war in Vietnam. The sense of injustice in their anger was palpable. Today, however, America merely rolls its collective eyes and sighs, “There they go again.” In today’s world, Americans won’t respond to anger in the same way they did during the Vietnam War. And they certainly won’t sympathize if protesters are infringing on their individual lives, as the traffic-stoppers in Portland did.
Facing the stereotypes that they have helped create for themselves, liberals need to be smarter in order to shed the negative connotation of the word “liberal.” They must take a different approach entirely to how they express their objections, an approach that keeps in mind all of the consequences while working towards a specific goal. Protesting disregards potential consequences in order to “send a message;” this strategy simply will not work any longer. Now, after a depressing defeat at the hands of the Right, it’s time to rethink how liberals influence the political scheme.
Eli Pariser, now one of the key organizers for MoveOn, the online political activism group, told motherjones.com that he realized a change was needed during an anti-IMF rally four years ago. “All of a sudden,” Pariser said, “I realized that the scripted confrontation of attacking and antagonizing them wasn’t going to get us anywhere. It changed the way I was thinking, tactically.” Now, Pariser is involved in raising money and organizing events for arguably the Internet’s most powerful political force, and his work is already having enormous positive influences. It’s time to embrace that kind of new thinking, to shed the angry and antagonistic behavior with which liberalism is currently associated and to move towards a less-polarizing strategy for combating injustice in today’s political world.
Rodriguez can be reached at [email protected]