As an activist and progressive type and queer and everything else, I keep a deep dark secret. It stays inside of me and only my very closest friends know the truth. I put on a good face and pretend it's not true, but inside I feel the conflict to my core. The reality is this:

I hate rallies.

I know. As someone who wants to toss the Man around a little, who wants change and all sorts of other good things, I'm supposed to be all about large groups standing in the freezing cold and inspirational speeches and chanting and signs. I should love picket lines and dramatic displays and chaining myself to things. I should feel the energy, the burn, the drive, the power of the people!

I don't.

I really think that rallies are most often purely for the benefit of the people holding them. I rarely see any kind of change as a result of a rally. If anything, a successful rally is more often a sign that a change is about to happen. The success of a rally, its high attendance and large effect on public opinion, doesn't make the change, it just shows that it's imminent. A rally won't have high attendance or an effect on public opinion unless people are already leaning towards supporting its cause.

I do know that rallies are an important tool in a campaign. They can show that an idea has the support of lots and lots of people. There is power in numbers. I just get annoyed because too many times rallies are held in substitute for other kinds of activism. It's like "there's a war in Iraq that we disagree with, let's march on city hall and say we don't want unnecessary deaths," but that doesn't actually change the fact that we're at war.

If you've got a big goal, you've got to come at it from lots of directions and protesting isn't enough. We're still in Iraq after years and years of protests; it took a concerted effort from politicians working in countless ways to even get someone in power who wants to consider getting us out. You know, there were legislative actions, and lobbying actions, and opinion polls and public service announcements and whatever else. The rallies were relatively insignificant.

I do go to rallies when they're about a cause I support, but I always feel vaguely annoyed and fatalistically amused at the enthusiasm I see there. Yes, I do sometimes get caught up in the spirit, but mostly I'm just standing at the sides trying not to laugh and cry at the same time.

So this is it, me coming out of the closet as a rally skeptic. Shame, shame, and all of that, but eh, I'll be active in other ways, thank you.


Unknown said...

You know, I'm with you on this. There was a time, I think, when gathering in public for a cause was a subversive act in and of itself. States actively tried to suppress such gatherings with force, and social pressures would discourage people from attendance. Public gatherings offered a place to find like-minded support for actively suppressed, marginalized people. Nowadays it feels built into the system, and few people (in the states) are marginalized in such a way that the mere presence of bodies actually has any effect.

I can think of two exceptions though:

1) Counter-protests: A friend of mine told me they went to the counter-protest for the walk for life in SF knowing that many kids were forced to go by their parents. The counter-protest was a way to tell the coerced protesters that there was another side to the argument.

2) Strikes: They are more than just a collection of bodies, they are an active bargaining tool for the laborers. The presence of their bodies is also their refusal to work under current conditions. These are still incredibly subversive and threatening, and as recently as two years ago I've had friends who have been shot/beaten by police at a strike.

Riots I have mixed feelings about. They're much more complicated.

Anonymous said...

We have been going through months of Tamil activism in Toronto, including some extremely large protests (with more and more civil disobedience, e.g., shutting down a major highway by marching up the ramp). These large numbers of people are making a difference, drawing public attention to the genocide happening in Sri Lanka. The public are polarized about these protests, but government is beginning to respond. The Tamils are keeping up the pressure -- another rally of 12,000 people this afternoon.

I don't disagree with what you are saying in principle, but I know I feel like sometimes all I can do is raise my voice in protest as part of a collective protest. Does it change anything? All too often, probably not. But it makes me think about what more I need to do on an issue.

That's just my opinion.

On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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