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Are organized protests effective? June 11, 2008

Posted by Raul in random thoughts, Vancouver.

It does sound a bit like the one writing this post is NOT the Raul you know, right? After all, I *am* someone who really wants to effect social change. I am a strong advocate of all things sustainability, all things social change, “let’s harness the power of Web 2.0 to make a difference”. I *still* am that guy. However, after reading a post of the always lovely (and really smart) Monica Hamburg, I started getting red flags… MAYDAY, MAYDAY! Somebody help me!

In her post, she indicates that Web 2.0 can be used to initiate protests. Yeah, it can – and perhaps it would be a useful strategy – even Michael Geist admits that this is part of “the new normal”. However, I kinda don’t like the idea. I’ll explain here why. in my more than 10 years living in Vancouver, I have been witness (and, in some selected cases, participant) to numerous protests and manifestations. Many of these organized protests take place outside the Vancouver Art Gallery and other public places. My dislike for (some, not all of them) these protests resides in the fact that the target actor/government is not even listening. Do you want to protest for what’s going on in Oaxaca? Go to Oaxaca! I mean, what does the VAG have to do with anything that’s happening in Mexico? Same goes for any other country… go to the specific country and protest! I mean, even the manifestations outside the embassies are more relevant, I think.

I am not someone who actually engages in active dissent, not because I don’t have an opinion, but because I don’t think that I can influence the target actor in that way. I am an academic, and a blogger. In many ways, I am an activist, and I try to be an agent of change.

However, I think that my talent is better used in the academic realm by researching a topic and publishing a peer-reviewed paper. By translating this paper to a language that can be easily understood and comprehended. By providing non-for-profits with my skills and ideas. By sitting at the table with government officials and offering sound, well-reasoned scientific advice. I don’t think that I can make much of a difference by holding a sign and yelling outside the VAG. And in the Web 2.0 way, by blogging about an issue.

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for public displays if I believe that they can have an effect on the target actor. Look at some environmental non-governmental organization – they can be quite effective in using aggressive lobbying tactics to protect wilderness, oceans, etc. But I can’t really see how effective a public display at the VAG will be in effecting any change.

I am much happier writing about a case that needs my help (and I’m more than happy to provide lots of link love, expert advice, etc.) – for example, the case of the UBC Farm – I am not sure that the senior administration of UBC will listen if there is just a massive protest outside the VAG. Maybe a more effective way is to engage in other methods of protest.

Just a reflection. Comments, as always, most welcome. My main question is – do you think that the organized protests are effective? If so, where and when? Please provide specific examples. Thank you!



1. inaequitas - June 11, 2008

I think protests fall into two large categories: individuals trying to educate others, and individuals trying to push the government in a certain direction. The former type is quite likely to succeed through the ‘established’ means of demonstration, and the web definitely makes information much more accessible.

The latter, unfortunately, is doomed from the start, because the government is not that interested in what its citizens want. Unless they form a lobby group, of course. So Direct Action — while potentially questionable and often synonym to terrorism — may be more effective in eliciting some kind of change. The only way to really make the government pay attention is financial terrorism (which average citizens, even organized, cannot really pull off) or civil unrest, potentially leading into revolution. I know it is a bit of an extreme view, and I wish to be proven wrong; but in the last 7 years I have started paying a bit more attention to what goes on in the world, and this is one of the conclusions I have arrived at.

But, more on this at the upcoming Third Tuesday, I hope.

2. Raul - June 12, 2008

The educational ones, fine. But the other ones? Hard … I think it will be a useful discussion at Third Tuesday!

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