Swans Commentary » swans.com January 25, 2010  



Protests And Organizing


by Martin Murie





(Swans - January 25, 2010)   Another even colder hour on the street corners yesterday, and I have a relatively new thought: organizing is a shade different from protesting. Maybe it's because I have a union organizer in my new novel, who can't understand why protesters meekly submit to arrest. His motto is "cut and run to fight another day."

There was a time when protesters wore jail time like a feather in their hat. They quit that after a while and settled on solidarity, a more social goal.

Humility, that's a hard lesson we have to learn.

Anyway, I can't understand why it took me so long to get it clear in my head that organizing and protesting are not quite synonymous. When I talk to pedestrians on the street corners, I feel as though I am in a much more complex situation, one where one has to listen carefully and make one's reply a shade more "advanced" or "challenging." No, let's not be ashamed of those words. After all, we marginal people are proud of our different take on the disasters that now face us. We participate in building a mass movement to finally show the powers that be that we, from both heart and brain, order them to make real changes to fit the realities of this day and the next day. Not years, not the 2020 goal set by voluntary cutting back on emissions.

I overstep to the extent that I often suggest to the person I'm conversing with to "Join us." Some offer excuses, some say they're thinking about it. The prize remark was from a black woman who asked why we were just standing around with posters. I tried to respond, asked her to join us, make a difference. She refused and went away. She wanted more action, fewer words on plain white poster paper.

That might have been the moment when I saw us protesters in a slightly different light. One of us always has a fistful of little folders stating the Veterans for Peace point of view. He's an organizer. A surprising number of pedestrians we talk to are veterans. Usually they accept the leaflets. Some like to talk, some don't. Regardless, it is up to us to be friendly, even when under verbal fire, able to listen carefully and also pitch our own point of view. It all depends on what we hear the other person say. That's organizing. Protesting is putting you body where your mouth is and that is honorable and necessary. But listening and then replying is something to be learned and learned again. That's organizing.

I have heard that James Hansen, a prominent defender of science and, especially, climate change facts, was at a protest and was arrested. Finally a prominent scientist out on the streets! I wish I had been a fly on a poster, listening to what he had to say.

We protesters are middle-aged and older. Can we get into real conversations with younger folks? Why not?

Sometimes pedestrians of all ages are walking one or two, even three, dogs.

If the dogs are big enough I say that the dog is a model "Peace Dog." I know whereof I speak because I have known at least two medium sized or long-legged dogs who have carried, with good humor, peace slogans. There are many more openings in conversations, but some people rush past, not wanting to have any contact with us. I don't blame them; we represent fringe elements and our aged appearance is also a no-no.

Once in a while a car will pull off into a side street to rant at us. Those are people who are easy to listen to: shouted slogans right out of right-wing or military song books. We hope that reality will penetrate that driver further down the road.

We ought to do better than just stand there with posters. Actually, a good fraction of us protesters actively listens to pedestrians who stop; we put in a word now and then, and perhaps end up with "Join us." Sometimes the reply is "I will," but rarely do they show up. Let's not be discouraged; let's keep at it.

It is now a fact after the brutal showing of no clothes at Copenhagen, that our masters want nothing to do with civilization or happiness or development of our individual lives in solidarity with protesters worldwide. "Business as Usual," that's the slogan,

Copenhagen is the opening we have been looking for. Let's not squander it.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published January 25, 2010