Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is It The Protest -- or The Demonstration?

Is it a distinction without a difference or is it a matter of fundamental importance?

"The Protester" is chosen as Time's Person of the Year for 2011, and it superficially makes perfect sense, since "protest" has been a constant and growing pubic activity throughout much of the world, most of the year.

I haven't paid much attention to Time Magazine since the end of the Luce era, and I usually find the widespread "lefty" blogospheric fascination with the magazine to be amusing at best -- when it's not an outright misperception. Time has had its ups and downs over the decades, but it's never actually been a "liberal" publication, nor have its writers and editors ever been as insightful as their reputations would suggest.

Time was once an important publication in a very tightly controlled haute media environment; it has always been closely aligned with the interests of power and money. It once had a breezy, popular-literate style of word-play and phrase-making, but has fallen into the sort of turgid prose and "balance" that characterizes so much of the post-modern media.

Those issues aside, the question I've been wrestling with for some time has to do with the nature of what is going on with this global revolution: is it a Protest or a Demonstration, and what is the difference?

Time focuses on the protest aspect of the Revolution, and further narrows the focus to a protest against government, specifically certain aspects of governments, especially the dictatorships abroad and the incipient dictatorships at home.

Like most other media, Time essentially ignores the demonstration aspects of the Revolution.

But isn't a demonstration and a protest the same thing?

Not in the context of the Occupy Movement and the various localized revolutions that have already taken place, nor is it the same thing in the context of the overall Global Revolution sweeping the Earth, the one that has as a motto: "Another World Is Possible."

Globally this Revolution is driven in large part by a reaction to the impositions and exploitations of a shrinking cadre of economic terrorists, a global neo-liberal elite, who see the earth and its peoples as resources and commodities to exploit, dispose of and to profit from. Period.

This neo-liberal elite has captured governments all over the world, and even the most ostensibly "democratic" governments have largely ceased listening to or considering the interests and needs of their People so as to better serve the demands and requirements of the notorious 1%. "People" don't matter at all in this context -- except for the extent to which they can be stripped of dignity, deprived of justice and community, and forced to struggle against one another.

This situation gives rise to revolt by its very nature.

Protest is a tactic used as part of the revolt, it is not the revolt itself.

For reasons that I've never quite understood, those in power -- and the media that is part of the power structure -- simply cannot fathom the tactical nature of protest, nor can they quite grasp the essential nature of the Demonstration that is at the heart of the Revolution.

This blindness may not be such a bad thing in the end, because the less that Power "understands" the greater the potential for the ultimate success of the Revolution.

The more that Power reacts against the Revolution from a basis of Dalek-like mindlessness, the less likely it is to succeed in the end.

Thus, the irony of breaking up the protest encampments in this country and abroad is that the demonstration that began in the encampments is dispersed throughout the community and society. The act of breaking up or suppressing the demonstration has the effect of spreading it. And the more the demonstration of the possibility of another world is spread, the greater the popular understanding and support of the Revolution.

By trying to focus solely on the Protest, Time and much of the media and associated officialdom in effect serves the interests of the Revolution itself.

I'm astonished watching governments all over the world and in this country double down on their austerity obsessions in service to their financial and economic overlords -- and in increasingly brutal defiance of the interests and demands of their People. It is a textbook example of institutions flailing and failing. Suppression is hardly a recipe for endurance, and the notion that "dialog" is somehow The Answer is just funny. It's long past time for rulers to "hear." Action alone will make the difference, and the only action so far undertaken is suppression -- often with extraordinary levels of official violence and brutality.

Government, however, is neither the direct source of the problems the People face, nor is it the answer directly. The obsessive focus on protest against governments, therefore, is a reflection of the obsessions of the media. That there is a parallel demonstration of alternatives doesn't occur to them.

"Another world is possible," but unless you explore it and show it repeatedly, it's hard to see how that Other World can be instituted, or even if it can.

The demonstration which began in the public squares has now largely -- but not totally -- been evicted from the squares (much as households have been evicted from their homes throughout the economic and financial disaster of today's neo-liberal capitalism) and has dispersed through communities all over the world.

"Be not afraid," has become the message of the Revolution (or "Don't be afraid," for those who are reluctant to engage Biblical references). "We are winning," is the coda.

Protest is a tactic, but it is not the Revolution itself. Suppressing -- or permitting -- protest is peripheral to the central demonstration that is at the heart of the Revolution.


  1. I was pleasantly surprised by the Time piece, but share your impressions of its shortcomings. As a wise man once said, and I paraphrase out of the same laziness that made me not look up his name, "It's hard to make a man see something that his salary depends on him not seeing."
    In that vein, some laughable omissions weakened the whole thing:
    No mention of Wisconsin, although it was in the timeline and a pretty big catalyst for Occupy et al...
    The blithe assertion that American protesters don't have to worry their pretty heads about violent repression.... In service of that fantasy, he offered an unintentionally hilarious quote about non-American protesters having "more balls."
    Chuckling, I thought, "How many? Three? Five? A baker's dozen?"
    Or was it just a clever Beatles metaphor:
    "Although the balls were rather small...
    They had to count them all.
    No one knows how many balls it takes to fill the Albert Hall.
    I'd love to tell you...."

  2. I was led here by the Field Negro blog who listed yours as a "Blog I'm Feeling."

    That's deep to break down the difference between a protest and a demonstration.

    Latin Americans use the word "manifestation," which makes it clear that what you're seeing in the streets is but a small reflection of what's going on in people's minds, hearts, determinations and political circles.

    A "manifestation" makes overt and visible that which existed before the manifestation and continues to exist after the police have dispersed the "manifestantes."

    Fidel Castro at the Moncada. Rosa Parks in Montgomery. The slaughter of Blacks in Capetown, South Africa that gave birth to the ANC. Some of the media realizes that what they see manifest in the street protests is but a hint of what lies in the minds, hearts and determination of men and women.

  3. I like the term 'manifestation,' too. The meaning is more comprehensive in Spanish than in English.

    The protest is part of the uprising, but it is by no means the whole of it. The ultimately more important aspect is the demonstration of alternatives.

    As more and more people understand they have been systematically robbed -- of dignity, justice, community, and peace as well as money -- revolt and revolution is inevitable.

    Countering the depredations will take concentrated and concerted effort -- and many demonstrations of alternatives.

    Thankfully, more and more of the demonstrations are going on in more and more places. And at least for now, a good deal of it is taking place under the radar of the security state and the media.

    Thanks for coming by!