Protests can foster connectedness as well as alienation.
In todays protest culture no less than in my own generations, a large part of the motivation seems to involve the natural human satisfaction we gain from participating in something larger than ourselves. The problem is, what do we mean by larger? If were engaged in activism that involves writing letters, circulating petitions, mounting economic or political boycotts of one kind or another, and so forth, we can have a lot of contact with people sharing our beliefs and values, and sometimes win over those who start out believing differently. If our efforts achieve their objectives, and we manage to get some giant government agency or some vast mega-corporation to change its behavior, we can feel a very strong, satisfying, and real sense of connectedness and empowerment. Trashing downtown buildings for the shock effect on the nightly news is in a different category of activity. Wholly apart from considerations of the relative merits and demerits of civil disobedience, or the morality or immorality of breaking laws and destroying other peoples property, we need to confront the ways in which violent street protesters play into the very system that demeans them. Chief among these is that making the nightly news can all too easily become the main criterion against which the significance of the actions is ultimately measured. If we treat making the news as the hallmark of significance, then virtually by definition we have to regard the rest of our lives, when were not making the news, as insignificant. This is not an auspicious beginning for ordinary non-celebrities in search of meaning in their lives. It is a conundrum that neither the 60s Movement nor the present day Underground of the Pacific Northwest has had much success in breaking out of.
(c) COPYRIGHT 2000 ROBERT WINTER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.