June 04, 2010

Do protests work?

I came across an interesting comment on the Dudesons controversy and the rally against MTV planned for Sunday. Basically, that protests don't work. Huh? I guess some people missed the whole Civil Rights/Vietnam thing.

Here are some more examples of effective protests:

  • The abolitionist movement against slavery.
  • Gandhi's nonviolent protests in India.
  • The global boycott of apartheid South Africa.

    Not to mention hundreds of protests against Indian mascots that succeeded in getting them changed.

    We hear complaints such as the one I came across all the time. "Why are you wasting time protesting? Don't you have anything better to do? Get a life." Or worse, "Indians are playing the race card. They enjoy being professional victims. They don't care about the issues, they're only promoting themselves."

    This posting is for the idiots who don't understand that protests work. I.e., who don't know anything about US history before, say, the Reagan era.

    Studies prove protests work

    Here's a paper that summarizes studies on how well protests work:

    Amplifying Public Opinion:  The Policy Impact of the U.S. Environmental Movement

    By Jon AgnoneExaminations of the public policy impact of social movements have predominantly focused on protest efficacy. Work within this theoretical approach asserts that dramatic events such as protests, rallies and sit-ins directly affect policy changes by leveraging elite concessions (e.g., Barkan 1984; Morris 1993). Two foundational works are Gamson’s (1975) survey of challenging groups and Piven and Cloward’s (1977) examination of poor people’s movements. While not specifically focusing on policy gains, Gamson found greater rates of success among groups utilizing violent rather than more moderate tactics. However, Goldstone’s (1980) reanalysis of Gamson’s data found movement success was independent of tactics. Piven and Cloward emphatically supported the role of dramatic events, stating that the only power excluded groups have is disruption, which is lost when they attempt to bargain within the political system from which they have been systematically excluded.And Agnone's own study:In this article, I introduce and find empirical support for an amplification model of policy impact. In short, public opinion influences changes in pro-environmental public policy above and beyond its independent impact when accompanied by protest which increases the salience of the public’s demands in the eyes of legislators. Increases in support for environmental regulation have a greater impact on the passage of environmental legislation consistent with the goals of the environmental movement depending on the level of environmental protest. Thus, a greater amount of federal legislation is passed when protest amplifies, or raises the salience of, public opinion on a given issue.Bogus arguments against protesting

    Here's a 2007 posting that discusses Agnone's study and the bogus arguments offered for not protesting:

    Gore Says Yes On Protests:  Study Shows EffectivenessThere are many forms of protest (marches, civil disobedience, sit-ins) as well as alternative forms of political action (e.g., campaign work, LTE, blogging, voting). How effective are those actions? A new study shows that an increase in the number of protests in a year increases the likelihood of favorable legislation being passed by Congress by 1.2% to 9.5%.

    Our government and corporate America would love nothing more than for us to buy their myths used to deter us from protesting. They say that protest is only used by a few extremist wackos who engage in violence. The truth is that if we unilaterally reject this effective political action, the "few" who will continue to use it will be our government and corporate America. The truth is that our police engage in more violence at protests than most protesters, except that violence is called legitimate. They say that protesters are the fringe elements of society. The truth is that photographs in a video below show that protests since the Iraq war commenced involved members of all ages from our families. They say that "normal channels" should be used in lieu of protest. The truth is that studies show that protests--both during civil rights movement and now--are more effective than traditional channels.

    One reason is that normal channels are biased in favor of the powerful and protesters generally champion causes of those not with power. Another reason is that our government (and Bush is a master here) engages in conduct that accomplishes the twin goals of weakening or destroying normal channels while also deterring Americans from engaging in political action. They say that normal channels are preferred over protest, which they claim is ineffective. Historical successes and empirical data show this claim to be false.
    The posting goes into more detail on each of these points.

    More evidence that protests work

    The Gore posting also offers an overview on the effectiveness of protests:To paint protest as ineffective is amazing given the successes obtained over the years:

    That the effectiveness of direct action can still be debated strains credulity. The success of Gandhi's campaigns in India during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement should have settled the question. Since the beginning of the modern environmental movement, the campaigns against nuclear power, to save ancient forests, to achieve a global ban on high-seas drift net fishing and open dumping have all incorporated significant direct action components. The American experience is teeming with nonviolent direct action. One of the most famous direct actions ever, the Boston Tea Party is patriotically taught in school. Most of the world's democracies have been created by acts of conscience against the state.

    Historically, protest has been instrumental in forcing the introduction of freedoms that we now take for granted, such as "the ending of slavery, extension of the franchise, curtailing ruthless aspects of the exploitation of labour and extending rights to women and minorities."
    If you broaden the definition of protests, it's even clearer that they work. For instance, Euro-Americans protested centuries of treaties given Native Americans sovereign and territorial rights. These protests caused the federal and state governments to mollify the white whiners by ignoring or violating their own laws.

    Corporations constantly protest government

    Another posting hits this point home:

    Protest in a liberal democracy

    By Brian MartinThe term protest is applied to actions of groups that are painted as outside the mainstream. When trade unions go on strike that is recognised as a form of political protest--and often stigmatised--but when corporations redirect investments out of a particular area (a 'capital strike') that is taken to be a normal exercise of corporate prerogatives. When peace activists purposefully break a regulation to block a train carrying nuclear materials, that is civil disobedience. When government departments fail to provide information by mandatory deadlines, when corporations continually flout environmental regulations, when prison warders beat prisoners or when ex-husbands refuse to pay child support, that is seen as cause for concern but is not categorised as civil disobedience.As much as I hate the ignorant Tea Party protests, they're certainly having an effect. Politicians across the country are changing their positions to cater to the teabagger crowd. Arizona's anti-Latino laws are arguably a concession to these protests.

    Now tens of thousands of people have marched to protest Arizona's racist laws. Arizona hasn't repealed the laws yet, but politicians are complaining about the protests and the accompanying boycott. The economic pinch is hurting, which suggests the protests are working.

    Really, we could go on and on listing protests that worked. Tea Party protests effectively weakened the push for a government option in healthcare reform. Wall Street protests effectively weakened the push for renewed financial regulations. Oil company protests have effectively weakened drilling regulations by claiming they'd be too expensive to implement. Etc., etc., etc.

    The short answer to the title question is yes, protests work. Duh. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an ignorant twit.

    For more on the subject, see Protesting Stereotypes = Cop-Out?, Not Enough Good Native News?, and Bitchin' and Moanin'. For more on the subject in general, see Why Does Rob Keep Criticizing?


    dmarks said...

    Not much mention of actual Native protests. How much did AIM accomplish?

    Some protests are more effective than others. Dr. King's March on Washington and other efforts? Sure. Farrakhan's self-glorification rally in DC? Probably not so much.

    Brother Means said...

    The American Indian Movement accomplishes and accomplished alot!

    Aside from bringing national attention to many of the protest ranging from Alcatraz to the 1992 Columbus Day parade in Denver, which I attended, there is a national awareness that arises from all sides.

    In Denver, AIM leaders were arrested. How is this unlike the writings of Thoreau that influenced Ghandi or MLK to act?

    A successful protest has goals or intent to bring attention to the issues or plight of injustice.

    A protest could be compared to lobbying. Just as protest can take years to become a viable issue or policy change to the democratic processes, legislation can take years before it is law.

    Do not forget your American History folks, just because slavery was abolished, it took nearly another hundred years to pass Civil Rights Laws on a national level and even then, racism is still an American trait.