Always be careful not to alienate the mainstream

A great piece by Glen Greenwald on the disdain of Normal “progressives” for the Wall Street protests.

Some of this anti-protest posturing is just the all-too-familiar New-Republic-ish eagerness to prove one’s own Seriousness by castigating anyone to the left of, say, Dianne Feinstein or John Kerry; for such individuals, multi-term, pro-Iraq-War Democratic Senator-plutocrats define the outermost left-wing limit of respectability…

A siginificant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal.  Indeed, the loyalists of both parties have an interest in marginalizing anything that might serve as a vehicle for activism outside of fealty to one of the two parties.

Sound familiar? It’s the church of savvy. It’s “framing.” It’s what William Hamby was arguing for. Throw everything overboard that might somehow conceivably in an alternate universe alienate Mainstream Americans because then they won’t vote for The Democrat!!11!

…much of this progressive criticism consists of relatively (ostensibly) well-intentioned tactical and organizational critiques of the protests: there wasn’t a clear unified message; it lacked a coherent media strategy; the neo-hippie participants were too off-putting to Middle America; the resulting police brutality overwhelmed the message, etc. etc.  That’s the high-minded form which most progressive scorn for the protests took: it’s just not professionally organized or effective.

See what I mean? Same old same old. It’s shrill, it’s strident, it’s aggressive, it’s radical, it’s feminist, it’s way too off-putting to Middle America.

Most importantly, very few protest movements enjoy perfect clarity about tactics or command widespread support when they begin; they’re designed to spark conversation, raise awareness, attract others to the cause, and build those structural planks as they grow and develop.  Dismissing these incipient protests because they lack fully developed, sophisticated professionalization is akin to pronouncing a three-year-old child worthless because he can’t read Schopenhauer: those who are actually interested in helping it develop will work toward improving those deficiencies, not harp on them in order to belittle its worth.

In order to belittle its worth and, don’t forget, to puff up one’s own importance as a savvy wised-up shrewd knowing pro in the tactics biz.

Personally, I think there’s substantial value even in those protests that lack “exit goals” and “messaging strategies” and the rest of the platitudes from Power Point presentations by mid-level functionaries at corporate conferences.  Some injustices simply need anger and dissent expressed for its own sake, to make clear that there are citizens who are aware of it and do not accept it.

Damn right!

In Vancouver yesterday, Dick Cheney was met by angry protests chanting “war criminal” at him while he tried to hawk his book, which prompted arrests and an ugly-for-Canada police battle that then became part of the story of his visit.  Is that likely to result in Cheney’s arrest or sway huge numbers of people to change how they think?  No.  But it’s vastly preferable to allowing him to traipse around the world as though he’s a respectable figure unaccompanied by anger over his crimes — anger necessarily expressed outside of the institutions that have failed to check or punish (but rather have shielded and legitimized) those crimes.  And the same is true of Wall Street’s rampant criminality.

And the Vatican’s.

But for those who believe that protests are only worthwhile if they translate into quantifiable impact: the lack of organizational sophistication or messaging efficacy on the part of the Wall Street protest is a reason to support it and get involved in it, not turn one’s nose up at it and join in the media demonization.  That’s what one actually sympathetic to its messaging (rather than pretending to be in order more effectively to discredit it) would do.  Anyone who looks at mostly young citizens marching in the street protesting the corruption of Wall Street and the harm it spawns, and decides that what is warranted is mockery and scorn rather than support, is either not seeing things clearly or is motivated by objectives other than the ones being presented.

Greenwald is almost as good as Rieux and Paul W.


  1. jamessweet says

    I have to admit I’m unimpressed with the Occupy Wall St. protests, for a lot of the reasons that Greenwald is criticizing… but I’ll be the first to say I sympathize with their goals, such as they are, and don’t wish to throw them under the bus!

  2. leftwingfox says

    The police tactics on display at the protests being brought to light are another big element of the protests. Watching officers casually spray bypassers, throw cameramen into parked cars, or drag women across the police barricades to be tackled and arrested are horrifying reminders of the modern American police state.

    Not all cops are corrupt bullies, but as long as the system supports and protects corrupt bullies, we will continue to see this madness.

  3. Rieux says

    Greenwald is almost as good as Rieux and Paul W.

    That’s very cute and flattering but (probably intentionally) silly. Greenwald’s work is frequently spot-on and extremely important (so much more so than blog comments from a pseudonymous schlub on the internet), though it often makes me want to crawl under my bed and hide.

  4. says

    And of course some of those same people who criticize the Wall Street protests for not being organized enough probably criticized the Tea Party protests for being too orchestrated and not real grassroots movements.

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