The logic of social protest

With the G8 summit and its related protests happening as we speak, it might be a good time to stop and ask a few questions about social protest. The G8 summit is only the latest example of a definite trend, whereby protestors are pushed farther and farther away from the physical proceedings of these meetings. At the moment, they can’t even protest in the same community.

Perhaps the powers that be simply aren’t interested in listening to or even recognizing the democratic legitimacy of particular viewpoints or groups of society.

Perhaps there are reasonable safety concerns. Certainly, there are lots of examples of how protestors can be destructive and violent. Not all protests are violent, but it is easy to see how one might mistake a legitimate but heated protest for nothing more than a riotous mob.

No doubt, the ultimate reason for such security is a combination of these factors. However, it seems that if there could be no basis for safety concerns, any un-democratic sentiments that might be left over would have nothing to hide behind and would have to be addressed. Is there an ideal way to protest? One which does not provoke safety concerns? Is there a way to change society in a manner other than through protest?

This may not, in fact, be possible. As a society, we are first and foremost concerned with economic interests. Our governmental policies reflect this. Thus, the only strategy of protest which will be noticed at all by politicians and businessmen is one that inflicts some real monetary cost.

Certainly this is the strategy utilized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). “The only form of resistance that is going to have effect is one that has economic impact,” says John Clarke OCAP organizer.

On the other end of the spectrum, J. Krishnamurti, in his book The First and Last Freedom, says that protest will have only limited effectiveness in changing a society since ultimately it comes down to two monolithic sides. He argues that the only real way to really create a humane society is to concentrate on one’s own relationships with other people, especially those whose viewpoints we don’t agree with—since it is the totality of all of these relationships that constitutes a society.

Truthful and elegant as this is, it could take generations to have any effect. So is there any way to meet in the middle? Protesting in a totally non-threatening way, changing as individuals, and yet at the same time having an economic impact that will force people to pay attention?

Some modern protestors have tried to implement a kind of passive resistance, similar to what Gandhi advocated, in which protestors, through striking, disrupting traffic, or otherwise simply “getting in the way” of the system, could have an economic impact yet not produce any legitimate concerns over security. Then again, such a method requires incredible discipline, courage and unity.

Ultimately, everyone must decide for themselves if and how to change society for the better. There doesn’t seem to be a right answer for this problem, but perhaps by considering the question, we can come to a better understanding, and find a way to give everybody a way to make their concerns heard by the people with the power to address them.

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