What does mass-protesting accomplish? Does no arrests equate success? Why is protesting disruptive? And more! In this action packed episode of This Anthropological Life, Aneil, Adam, and Ryan talk to Jara Connell about mass protesting and the strategies behind social movements.
Who is Jara Connell?
Jara is a PhD candidate at Brandeis University. She focuses on race, space, and policing in Saint Louis. Jara’s Master’s thesis dealt with sex and gender politics in Ferguson. When Jara is not advocating for social change and challenging dominant political agendas she takes her cat, Booger, on walks.
What Do Mass Protests Actually Do?
Mass Protests function as platforms to show support, motivate, create networks, and express the mass-discontent of the population. The Women’s March on Washington and those that occurred in solidarity in other cities are examples of mass-protesting events with the purpose of showing solidarity in the face of potential threat from the state and signalling a need for change. These forms of protests tend to function as opportunities for local organizations to draw recruits to their cause, so when smaller scale events occur in the future, they can call upon those individuals without the needs of posting in public forums.
In the end, mass protests are events with initiative agendas. They are not meant to be the only statement of a cause, but rather a starting point for continued action. Strategies and next step actions must be considered to move beyond the initial show of solidarity and acknowledgment of a problem.
Tune into the Podcast for More Information on Mass Protesting!
Is There a Correct Way to Protest?
There is not one correct way to protest. Protest strategies need to be able to evolve and be flexible in order to better assess the most effective ways to produce change in different environments. However, we do need to be careful about what is being labeled “the right way to protest”.
Immediately following the Women’s March on Washington came information that no one was arrested, but no arrests does not necessarily point to an effective protest. In the case of the Women’s March on Washington, the march was planned and permitted by the state. Roads were cleared ahead of time and non-protesters were able to avoid the disruption of protest crowds and move about their day normally. So two big parts of protesting (disruption and unpredictability) were taken out of the equation and it was all cleared with the very state they were protesting against.
To Learn More About Evaluations of the Women’s March Check Out the Links Below and Tune into the Podcast!
Where’s the Challenge?
Jara points out that for a protest to really be effective it needs to be seen as a challenge to the state. If the state is challenged it will fight back with arrests, rulings, etc. to keep the status quo. While it is great that no one was arrested, it is important to consider why.
White privilege is a tool that can be used in movements like Black Lives Matter because white people are less likely to be arrested or treated violently. Jara suggests that by placing white people in line with the police there would likely be less violence enacted on the crowd. In this case, there would still be arrests and white protesters need to be willing to take that risk because a no arrest protest is not the norm.
In the coming years we need to consider the point where protests will no longer be endorsed by the state, which will likely result in more arrests and violence towards protesters. States have already begun to draft bills that sanction action against peaceful protests. Protest strategies will need to evolve with the hostile climate.
It is odd that protests get such a bad rep when they played such a foundational role in the building of the United States of America. Consider the Boston Tea Party and the protesting of the Townshend Acts that led to the the Boston Massacre, these were important events in our nation’s history where people were fighting for their rights. What is so different about protesting today?
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When Did Peaceful Protesting Become the Ideal?
The American ideal of non-violent civil disobedience originates from the Civil Rights Movement, but it is important to remember that the emphasis on nonviolence was a strategy designed to fit the times. Their use of nonviolence was specifically for optics. Protesters would often march in particularly dangerous places in order to provoke a violent response from their attackers to draw attention to their plight. By disrupting day to day life in different cities, the Civil Rights Movement was able to draw attention to systemic racial inequalities that were hidden behind normative life. Martin Luther King Jr. himself owned a small arsenal of weapons to protect himself if needed. He was able to read the landscape and understand what would be effective and what was necessary.
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In the end, disruption and disorder are an integral part of protesting. By disrupting traffic, political meetings, and everyday life, protesters are forcing their problems to the foreground where the public has to address them. Black Lives Matter does a particularly good job at this. As Jara states “One of the reasons I think it is so successful is that it directly confronts state power, directly confronts the police, directly confronts the sources of oppression”. Arrests become a sign of success that shows that the state feels threatened. The state’s retaliation is evidence of a protest’s effectiveness.
To Learn More About Nonviolent Disobedience Check Out the Links Below!
What Tools Does Your Average Person Have?
There are a ton of ways to resist agendas you do not agree with. Jara suggests mass non-cooperation (i.e. intentionally being bad at your job, leaking information), economic protesting (i.e. boycotting), checking out online activism (i.e. #activism and #activism on Twitter) , donating to organization that are resisting, and getting involved in local politics. In the last week, we have already seen resistance from regular people in the forms of the creation of the AltUSNatParkService as well as the response of lawyers flocking to airports to provide aid to those detained due to the Muslim ban initiated by the Trump administration.
Jara stressed the importance of security. Most protests and events that organizations will hold will not be planned in advance or distributed through social media invites because it will alert the police and most protests happen in immediate response to a problem. If you become active with local organizations by joining email lists or networking with others at the bigger protests you should have no problem staying up to date as groups take action.
Jara’s best advice for those who want to become involved with protesting is to listen to the people who have been doing this for decades.
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