Sunday, March 18, 2007


Yesterday, I decided to take a walk a few miles from my house where people were gathering in a small neighborhood protest.

When I arrived, they were still setting up and there was an opportunity to talk with a few people. They seemed to wonder who I am and why I was there. One woman asked, "you're not a spy for the government, are you?"

Once assured that in fact I have no covert operative status to be blown, we had some brief conversations. Going from one to another, I noticed a some commonalities.

Most of them were unwilling to answer the difficult questions. I asked one of the organizers, "Do you really believe this has an impact? Aside from taking the pulse of the neighborhood, do you think all of us, individually or collectively, can change a darned thing the government is doing? We have an illegal and immoral regime in place, firmly entrenched and reinforced through the national security establishment. Here it is, a gorgeous day, and it's rather pleasant to be here, but do you really believe it will do any good?"

Through multiple interruptions from her friends and acquaintances, she looked at me with a rather blank stare and said she didn't really know but we need to at least try. And, she continued, at least we know we've done something.

It was just about that point when a man on a bicycle came up to us and said that he was going to put a sign on his bike that said, "The Solution". I found that kind of interesting because I really had no idea what he was talking about at that point. He went on to tell me that it was the solution to pollution, riding a bike instead of driving a car. He chanted it like a mantra.

There is certainly truth to his statement. I'm all for alternative methods of transportation. Bikes, buses, affordable taxis. Heck, bring us tuk tuks and sawngthaews ... just like Thailand's. It would provide independent jobs, reduce traffic and all sorts of good things.

But that's really not the point.

In talking with many of the people present, I realized that I've become detached. It will take a while to figure out why. The fire in my belly is gone. The righteous indignance of youth seems to have been replaced with a kind of benign acceptance. Honestly, I don't believe gathering on street corners, holding signs and chanting does any good. There comes a point where realism trumps idealism. As much as I would like to believe street activity such as this does anything more than allow a community of likeminded people to meet up occasionally, I absolutely do not believe it will change public policy. The sixties are gone forever. The days of "Power to the People" are on the ashheap of history.

It's a different world now. Globalization has changed the nature of geopolitics. And geopolitics is far more of a driver than domestic unrest.

Demonstrations such as this provide a release. They provide a venue for meeting likeminded others and feel a sense of community. There's certainly nothing wrong with that and it is refreshing to spend some time in the presence of others who hold similar beliefs. Those beliefs are reinforced by the cars that drove by, honking wildly in agreement. (And there was a lot of honking!)

Standing so long in the sun began to get to me and my balance was becoming precarious. (I have balance problems and bright sun aggravates the condition. Long, complicated, boring story.) The best idea seemed to be to begin walking home. I stopped here for some food and a break. Who can resist?




Julie Pippert said...

Oh VERY interesting. I am on the fence, now in my life, about this. It'd be along, long comment to try to explain...especially since I'm not even 100% sure. But now you make me want to go and reflect. Excellent post.

flutter said...

The only protest that matters, is your vote.
Because, the truth is, no matter what regime is in place, someone disagrees with it. All you can do is make your voice known in the most powerful way putting people in office that you think closely mirror what you agree with. The rest is lipservice.

jen said...

i was often myself wondering if you were a spy. (um, yeah)

and seriously, I know what you mean..for me, the apathy has become toxic...i wonder how much influence the regular person has when it comes to the war and other politics...but i have to believe it still matters, the peace i want to generate.

Anonymous said...

Probably the least effective way to find out if someone is a government spy is to ask, "Are you a government spy?" God, that's dumb. You should have tried to fine her $50, I bet she'd have paid it.

Moving right along...

One of my favorite quotes is by Ringo Starr: "I have this incredible dream that one day, one minute, the whole world, at the same time, will decide it's time for peace and love. So I just do my part. And I think that's all you can do. I'm not telling anyone else what to do. I do this, and that's the end of my story."

What other people do doesn't concern me as much as it used to. I just do my part.

Emily said...

I wonder if a government spy would say, yep, that me :) This was such an interesting post and I do wonder about the role of protest. I go back and forth. Great post!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I agree with you that such gatherings are best relegated to the ashheap of history. I was very active in the Civil Rights movement and the Peace movement in the 60's. We were able to do some good then at the grassroots level.

I went door-to-door in Harlem, registering voters who had never voted before. I marched on Washington to hear Dr. King speak, and was close enough to hear him w/o the P.A. system.

Back then, a groundswell of non-politicians could make a difference. Now, we have power-crazed insanity and unfathomable stupidity in Washington. We're cooked. Holding up signs on street corners will only cause tired arms and sunburn.

I hate to feel so cynical, but I worry about our surviving the two years that Bush still has in power. I think our chances are maybe 50-50.

I hope I feel more optimistic tomorrow.

KateMV said...

1) As someone who is living in a country where free speech and protests are not allowed, I am pleased that there are Americans who are not taking those rights for granted and are going out and making their voices heard. To become "detached" is to go along with the system.

The reason that Bush etc. are in power is because people voted for them. The only way to change is to educate people about what their vote means. That could be an effect of protests. (And despite Gore's winning the popular vote in 2000 and the fact that the Supreme Court decided, etc., the fact still remains that Bush won in 2004, and lots of Republican congressmen have legitimately won as well. That can't be denied.)

2) As to the question of whether or not having a protest actually has any effect, I would say that while it may not directly influence policy, it will still highlight issues that might not otherwise be brought to attention. Also, perhaps there are some Americans who oppose the war who will feel more confident expressing their opinions with a community as opposed to on their own (hence the honkers). Making it known that there are lots of people who oppose it is worth something in and of itself.

3) Voting is key. I have always believed that if you don't vote (and you're a citizen), you have no right to complain. That's not a response to anything in particular in your post, just an overall statement.

4) As someone who has to use tuk-tuks and songtaews regularly for transportation, I would like to point out that they are much less comfortable than buses, as well as much less safe. I don't think that having them in America would be a positive step.

QT said...

I think the standing on street corners does more to educate others than help anyone to be "seen" by our government.

All you can do is what one person can do. We have two more years and we will have a chance to show how serious we are about trying to change things.

Pam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pam said...

I still have a fire in my belly and think that apathy is akin to acceptance. Our vote is our first line of defense, of course, but when the people who get voted in turn out to be as corrupt as the ones we are dealing with now, it's time to make a stand.

We live in a country where we can speak our mind and speak it we must. If a protest adds only a few voices to the call, it's more than we had. And then a few more and so on. We may not be able to change the present situation but the people have the power to make the men and women, who are seeking office in the future, pay attention.

Our politicians need to be reminded that they work for us and that we have the power to make changes. But only if we are willing to stand up and fight for what we believe in. Apathy and detachment are the allies of the corrupt and dangerous.

MsLittlePea said...

Protest/spying makes me hungry too:o)

I agree with flutter. And I think a lot of people feel it's useless to do anything because the people in power are just going to what they want whether we the people like it or not. So I admire people who speak up anyway. Because even though they know nothing will likely come out of it, it's still important to let their voices be heard.

Bob said...

Those protests (and protesters) may not directly cause a change, but collectively they do. Those protests were picked up and reported in newspapers and on radio/tv. Politicians take note of these things. People take note of these things. Also, like others above have said, people will see that there are others out there who feel as they do and will feel freer to express themselves. As others above also have said, ultimately your vote is what really counts. But these protests can influence candidates, letting them know what their constituents think. If a candidate decides to emphasize a position because of the protests, then the protests did have a direct effect and people will then have an opportunity to vote on the issue.

The Atavist said...

Very interesting post. It is a good thing that people are passionate about their beliefs, but many people take emotional positions on things because 'it feels right' and without knowing either the facts or the possible repercussions of change. That is dangerous and why there is such polarization beteen left and right.

Cecilieaux said...

Most protesters understand only vaguely what's involved -- and most citizens understand how government works only vaguely. I'd make it a requirement of getting a driver's license to take -- and pass -- a solid civics course.

Still, even the vague sentiment expressed in protests does add a point of pressure. That's what peaceful political change is all about -- a zillion points of pressure that forces the powers that be to alter course, if only a few degrees.

meno said...

It seems to me that what i feel any more is not really apathy, but helplessness. I have never been one to believe that putting a flag or a support our troups magnet on my car does a damn bit of good, other than making me look smug. As if i were doing something, when i'm not.

Having said that, i would take my daughter to an anti-war or a gay rights rally.


Laurie said...

I haven't had the time to comment much lately, but want you to know how much I appreciate the things you write about Chani. You make a difference.

Gobody said...

Chani, only when you believe that you cannot make a difference, you cannot make a difference.