05 August 2006

From Protest to Street Theater

In the course of history of the United States, the large scale protest has been something that, until modern times, was a rare happening and not an everyday event. Even such a protest or organizational group as ACTUP has problems getting past the 20th century for the basis of mass protests:

The use of nonviolence runs throughout history. There have been numerous instances of people courageously and nonviolently refusing cooperation with injustice. However, the fusion of organized mass struggle and nonviolence is relatively new. It originated largely with Mohandas Gandhi in 1906 at the onset of the South African campaign for Indian rights. Later, the Indian struggle for complete independence from the British Empire included a number of spectacular nonviolent campaigns. Perhaps the most notable was the year-long Salt campaign in which 100,000 Indians were jailed for deliberately violating the Salt Laws.
And the Salt March of 1930 consisted of 78 people walking 240 miles after informing the British Viceroy of the actual protest and ended with about 60,000 individuals in jail. Looking a bit further back we can get the Haymarket Riot of May 1886, which was small in its starting point, but would encompass 350,000 people or so, thus moving the marker into the 19th century for mass protests, many of them inspired by Anarchists. Much of this is inspired by Henry David Thoreau's writing on civil disobedience and the non-legitimacy of government, but some traces its roots back to Taoism and earlier Greek times. One can also go through the history of Britain, say, and find almost perennial revolts against taxation and land takings and such that dot the historical record. So these things, while not unfamiliar in the historical context, are quite common today.

The fact that one can point to the common happening of mass protests also does something else to them: it delegitimizes them.

When a large protest against a social ill is done as a 'one time' event or part of a long series of ongoing events with a *single* aim and it is clearly demonstrated as to what that aim actually IS, then mass protests serve as a rallying point for public opinion. The marches and protests for Civil Rights in the US or the Ghandi inspired protests of India both had points to clearly make about representation and social responsibility. For the US it was to actually *adhere* to the Constitution and do more than give wording to equality for blacks, it was to actually *enforce* and *carry out* those laws so that all of the People would be heard. In India it was to remove the British Crown Rule and restore local rule so that India could be an autonomous Nation and not a colony. These are valid and substantial protests over basic and fundamental principles of how Nations are established and run and are made to wake the Nation or Nations involved that they are not upholding the social compact that they have put forth.

The argument can be made that there must be a 'social consciousness' about these issues and that the protests were to 'uplift' said 'consciousness'. In fact the exact opposite is true: these protestations and movements were to SHAME the Nation involved into doing the 'right thing'. In the US to force Governments to actually UPHOLD the law, and in India to force Britain to come to terms with the fact that colonial rule is contrary to the spread of liberty and freedom and does not allow for cognizance of local customs or society - it is, in short, a form of tyranny.

In the US, however, the Civil Rights movement soon led to the belief that mass marches can, indeed, change society. This conception of social or group power is one that is put forth by socialist ideals and is part of an internationalist movement to redefine the entirety of the world into social groups. This is called Transnationalism. And its first successful appearance was in the late 1960's in the United States in the protests against the war in Viet Nam. The reason for entry into Viet Nam was part of the Truman Doctrine of Containment of Communism, which is the underlying force of Transnationalism conception. By having a number of weak Nation States in South East Asia, President Eisenhower realized that increasing Communist support against local governments was a threat to this policy. Later President Kennedy would have the elected ruler of South Viet Nam killed and have a successor installed which would then be supported by increasing US presence there. There is some question on exactly how President Kennedy viewed the conflict and the future role of the US in it, but his assassination cut that short and President Johnson took up the Cold War mantle and escalated the conflict. While the means may or may not have been good ones, he saw that support of a beleaguered Ally that was embroiled in a Civil War had to be done to keep the Truman Doctrine in-place. The slowly building protests against the legitimacy of the means called the Doctrine itself into question by those doing the protesting, and they were composed of mostly younger individuals, leftist ideologues and those looking to 'cash in' on the baby boom generation for ideological purposes.

These protests were able to bring about an end to US involvement in Viet Nam, but only to the harsh death toll that followed in South Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos, all directly attributable to the spread of totalitarian Communism in the area. Without the US to back its Ally, these protesters who 'felt bad' about involvement of the US 'imposing' itself were the main causation factor to the spread of totalitarianism and death in South East Asia. In addition to causing withdrawal of the US, the entire military establishment was shaken by the removal of support for the common ideal of supporting Friends and Allies by actually helping them. The movement to an all-volunteer force, which was typific of the US Armed Forces before the World Wars and in the inter war period, returned the Nation to the Citizen Soldier. An entire generation of the military, however, grew up with the problematical situation of not being seen as an upholder of liberty for the Republic and having their service belittled widely. The scorn and deep distrust that the protesters put in-place during the Viet Nam era still have lingering shadows and have given rise to 'moral equivalency' between State based military and non-State based terrorists.

With this 'victory' the protesters wanted to continue on to 'other' consciousness raising efforts... but those had hard problems gaining traction in the United States. But protests and rallies didn't stop, and were seen for the Equal Rights Amendment, against US involvement in multiple Nations (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, to name a few), against nuclear weapons, against nuclear power plants... well the list of protest marches in Washington, DC tells the tale. Before 1963 there were a total of exactly 4 mass protests in the DC. Starting in 1963 to 2005 there have been 20 protests.

Thus in the first 176 years of the Republic, give or take a few days, there were only 4 protests worth bringing to the National Attention via protesting in DC. In the last 42 years there have been 20. And this does not even *begin* to hit the equivalent rise of protests overseas. And the singular Civil Rights march on DC was to bring a series of smaller and localized protests and marches that had already been seen via the National media to square and pointed focus. On the flip side for the Viet Nam protests, they *started* in DC to get coverage and expand protests. This was not the 'grass roots' rising up that the Left wants to portray, but a top down series of protests that starts with a large number of disaffected wishing to make more people disaffected and grabbing headlines to do so.

Today the ability to gather hundreds, thousands or, indeed, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of individuals for a rally or 'protest' has migrated from valid uprising of social problems that need to be addressed at a National scale to something known as 'street theater' en mass. Getting large number of individuals now is supposed to give 'legitimacy' to a movement by demonstrating how many people one can turn out. Totalitarian regimes do this regularly either at gunpoint or through coercion, and the record number of protests of individuals in totalitarian regimes showing their 'support' for some governmental position at gun point is given the exact same moral equivalency of individuals working a decade or more to change laws and bring injustice to the forefront and culminate in something that represents a Nation-wide concept.

Thus the moral equivalency of those that have put years of effort into doing something that they see as 'right' so as to uphold a National viewpoint, put their lives on the line in many cases, often endanger careers or social scorn, and live a life so as to demonstrate that the ideals of a Nation are worth upholding are given the *exact same* credence as those that are told that if they do NOT show up they will either be killed, lose their job, be harassed or beaten, have family members tortured... and on and on...

Further, spending time to put on a protest or some such within a few days of an event does *not* demonstrate anything but an ability to get an ideological *base* out to protest. No social discussion of events have taken place, instead a pre-determined result template is instantiated and the protest is brought to media spotlight to make the world aware of how much that ideological base asserts its control... over its adherents, not the greater society as a whole. These individuals, given signs or shirts or banners to hold and walk around with are made to look like they are actually there as part of their wider society while, in point of fact, they are there for THEMSELVES and trying to assert their CONTROL of the media so as to give APPEARANCE that they are a significant portion of the population.

The latest of these is from Moqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad turning out approximately 100,000 individuals in Baghdad. But, as we see from a local on the scene, numbers do *not* tell the whole story (Omar at Iraq the Model)[bolding mine]:

Let's look at it from this angle; Saddam enjoyed the same, if not more, popularity than Sadr does today (yes, Saddam was popular among more or less a million Iraqis not to mention popularity among other Arabs) and the same applies to Nesrallah, Ahmedinejad and Bin Laden who have millions of supporters among Arabs and Muslims, however we didn't find it difficult to "demonize" them, right?

I mean should we allow the bad guys to grow more powerful just because they are popular?! This is totally absurd. . .

According to this "senior official" we are supposed to think twice and be careful before tackling people like Sadr but my question is; if not now then when? Are we supposed to give them more time to grow more powerful and more popular?
We have seen some examples in recent history when crazy tyrants were not dealt with fast enough or powerfully enough whether by an external force or by their own people; putting an end to Saddam would've been easier if the decision was made in 1991 and dealing with Ahmedinejad immediately will be easier than to deal with him when he acquires nukes and disarming the Sadr militias would've been much more easier if the right decision was made two years ago.

After all, popularity polls do not necessarily reflect the truth and today's demonstration indicates that as well; see, instead of the million figure that Sadr was aspiring to see in Baghdad and out of supposedly 2 million Shia residents of Sadr city only 100 000 showed up and that's only after Sadr summoned demonstrators from the southern provinces and sent busses to fetch them and let's not forget that the demonstration took place in Sadr's own stronghold where it's supposed to take no effort from supporters to show up and march; technically they were asked to march in their own front yard.

Let's suppose that the 30 seats that Sadr's followers have in the parliament reflect his popularity, which is not true because they wouldn't have a chance to win 30 seats without joining the UIA and without Sistani backing them, but even then we have most of the remaining powers demanding immediate disbanding of militias. And these are the ones we should consider, not controversial polls of false popularity.

Some Iraqis including their elected prime minister and elected president said 'thank you America' while others said death to America and Iran is strongly supporting those who wish death to America, so what are you in America going to do while we still have the chance, still have the determined leadership and while there's still hope?

Will you stand with those who believe you came to help them, or will you let Iran remain free to push Iraq to doom?
So, what does the 100,000 mean? It is support that al-Sadr can get from his *base* and NOT an assertion for/against whatever the topic du jour is. In point of fact it is a petty tyrant exercising his powers to try and gain National and International legitimacy by turning out his base of support.

And then we see a Nation like Iran where the population is under strict control and any spontaneous street violence is either met with harsh reprisals... or nothing because it is given *sanction* by the regime or even started by it (Iran Focus):

Tehran, Iran, Aug. 04 - Radical Islamists attacked the British embassy in Tehran on Friday and called for the expulsion of the British ambassador from Iran.

Dozens of hard-liners gathered in front of the embassy compound following Friday prayers in the Iranian capital holding up signature-yellow flags of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

They threw stones at the embassy building, shattering several windows, and tore down the embassy plaque on the gates of the compound.

Several British flags were set on fire during the demonstration.

They were protesting what they said was British support for the Israeli offensive against Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

The group also chanted slogans against several international human rightorganizationsns, accusing them of failing to oppose the violence in Lebanon.
Now mind you, Iran is directly supporting Hezbollah with equipment, money and sending over trainers to help them use equipment. So this is *not* some spontaneous street protest: it is a staged event by the regime in power. Compare that to this set of protests that no one heard about because it was under-reported in the MSM (thank you to Gateway Pundit):

The Southern Azerbaijan National Revival Movement (SANRM) bureau in Baku told APA that before the clash with Iranian police, the demonstrators, who were protesting against the caricature published by the newspaper "Iran", burnt the newspaper bureau in Urmiya. Eastern Azerbaijan governor called on the protesters to calm down. But they attacked the Urmiya TV and Radio Company in Kashani Avenue. Special forces and police forces trying to disperse the demonstrators fired at. (Picture PanArmenian News) Some demonstrators are reported to have been injured and some killed. Special troops managed to disperse the protesters in Marand city. Police forces beat the protesters in Abrasan square in Tabriz.
Quite a difference, isn't it? Here a protest NOT sanctioned by the regime gets punished and punished hard... but something that *is* sanctioned has police just standing around. Also note that these are the Special Forces or Basij doing the work, and most likely not the local police. The Basij are the thugs of the Iranian regime, out to enforce all the edicts all the way down to dress code, and to round up children to send in human wave attacks through minefields. Lovely folks, no?

So, what is the moral equivalence between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Moqtada al-Sadr?

No, really! If you are equating numbers turned out to be support and that there is moral equivalence based on pure numbers or even proportionality, then Moqtada al-Sadr and MLK, Jr. should have some sort of *exact* equivalence morally...

And remember that Doctor King wanted to have people judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. So no 'brown people' racism, please.

Personally, I find the one that wanted to UPHOLD the Nation and its laws and ensure due process to be on much higher and firmer ground than a mere thug getting his sycophants out to show how much they support him. But then I place trust only in numbers that are meaningful, not Street Theater. Doctor King spent hard years working to invest his view with the Nation and slowly bring about the understanding that to uphold the Constitution all of those that fall under its purview must be given due process of law. Moqtada al-Sadr is trying to demonstrate by force that he IS the law and wishes to impose it on all of Iraq.

I find Doctor King to have much, much more character than Moqtada al-Sadr. He is *just* a character and treats everyone around him as less than that.

That is what the 'moral equivalence' concept gets you. If you make that argument, this is the exact thing you support without any weasel words: Uplifting a Nation and Subjugating a Nation would be EXACT equivalents.

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