By way of Yves Smith’s excellent blog Naked Capitalism is this piece in yesterday’s The Independent about the power that protest still hold in today’s society.
There is a ripple of rage spreading across Britain. It is clearer every day that the people of this country have been colossally scammed. The bankers who crashed the economy are richer and fatter than ever, on our cash. The Prime Minister who promised us before the election â€œwe’re not talking about swingeing cutsâ€ just imposed the worst cuts since the 1920s, condemning another million people to the dole queue.
Yet the rage is matched by a flailing sense of impotence. We are furious, but we feel there is nothing we can do. There’s a mood that we have been stitched up by forces more powerful and devious than us, and all we can do is sit back and be shafted.
This mood is wrong. It doesn’t have to be this way â€“ if enough of us act to stop it.
[Let’s] look at a group of protesters who thought they had failed. The protests within the United States against the Vietnam War couldn’t prevent it killing three million Vietnamese and 80,000 Americans. But even in the years it was â€œfailingâ€, it was achieving more than the protestors could possibly have known. In 1966, the specialists at the Pentagon went to US President Lyndon Johnson â€“ a thug prone to threatening to â€œcrushâ€ entire elected governments â€“ with a plan to end the Vietnam War: nuke the country. They â€œprovedâ€, using their computer modeling, that a nuclear attack would â€œsave lives.â€
It was a plan that might well have appealed to him. But Johnson pointed out the window, towards the hoardes of protesters, and said: â€œI have one more problem for your computer. Will you feed into it how long it will take 500,000 angry Americans to climb the White House wall out there and lynch their President?â€ He knew that there would be a cost â€“ in protest and democratic revolt â€“ that made that cruelty too great.
Protest raises the political price for governments making bad decisions. It stopped LBJ and Nixon making the most catastrophic decision of all. The same principle can apply to the Conservative desire to kneecap the welfare state while handing out massive baubles to their rich friends. The next time George Osborne has to decide whether to cancel the tax bill of a super-rich corporation and make us all pick up the tab, he will know there is a price. People will find out, and they will be angry. The more protests there are, the higher the price. If enough of us demand it, we can make the rich pay their share for the running of our country, rather than the poor and the middle â€“ to name just one urgent cause that deserves protest.
And protest can have an invisible ripple-effect that lasts for generations. A small group of women from Iowa lost their sons early in the Vietnam war, and they decided to set up an organization of mothers opposing the assault on the country. They called a protest of all mothers of serving soldiers outside the White House â€“ and six turned up in the snow. Even though later in the war they became nationally important voices, they always remembered that protest as an embarrassment and a humiliation.
Until, that is, one day in the 1990s, one of them read the autobiography of Benjamin Spock, the much-loved and trusted celebrity doctor, who was the Oprah of his day. When he came out against the war in 1968, it was a major turning point in American public opinion. And he explained why he did it. One day, he had been called to a meeting at the White House to be told how well the war in Vietnam was going, and he saw six women standing in the snow with placards, alone, chanting. It troubled his conscience and his dreams for years. If these women were brave enough to protest, he asked himself, why aren’t I? It was because of them that he could eventually find the courage to take his stand â€“ and that in turn changed the minds of millions, and ended the war sooner. An event that they thought was a humiliation actually turned the course of history.
You don’t know what the amazing ripple-effect of your protest will be â€“ but wouldn’t Britain be a better place if it replaced the ripple of impotent anger so many of us are feeling? Yes, you can sit back and let yourself be ripped off by the bankers and the corporations and their political lackeys if you want. But it’s an indulgent fiction to believe that is all you can do. You can act in your own self-defence. As Margaret Mead, the great democratic campaigner, said: â€œNever doubt that a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.â€