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How to dissent today
Is it still possible to stir a national youth movement in America today? I don't think it is. I think apathy has won the day. Maybe the key is in localized fights. Change in the community:

Last December 98% of the New School faculty gave a vote of no confidence for the university's president Bob Kerrey. A week later 100 students barricaded themselves into a school cafeteria with hundreds more outside supporting them. After a 30 hour occupation the students left with their demands of his resignation unanswered. In April they staged another occupation of a New School building which was quickly distilled by police who arrested all the students involved as well as others on the street. Some students were injured by the police though the protest never escalated into violence. In May Bob Kerrey announced his planned resignation at the end of 2011. For all intensive purposes the protests succeeded in ousting their president whose conservative record runs counter to the school historical liberal roots.

At around the same time, just down the street at NYU, students also staged a cafeteria occupation. Around 70 students took control of one of cafeterias and demanded full budgetary disclosure from President John Sexton. Not stopping there, they also demanded annual scholarships for students in the Gaza Strip as well as gifts of surplus supplies to the Islamic University of Gaza. Not stopping there either, they demanded the right for graduate teaching assistants to unionize. After 18 or so hours no concessions were made and the students were issued suspensions.

These two cases are exemplary examples of the issues of protesting for political change in today's climate. In my opinion the New School students were completely justified in their use of occupational tactics. They had the support of the faculty and were giving voice to the mute majority who've been overlooked as Bob Kerrey extended administrative control over the school while ignoring student needs. On the other hand, the NYU students were just protesting to protest. They exemplify privileged students who forgo the cause just to fight. ( post ) Their demands were stupid, uninformed, and scattered. There was no justification for the occupation and it was a sacrifice for no gains because they were a small minority with no larger support.

If it weren't for the success of the New School operation I would readily say that the age of 1970 style sit-ins and protests was over. And to be truthful it has dwindled. As a youth today I feel completely removed from the efforts of the March on Washington and the movements to end the Vietnam war. Sure there were protests against Iraq, but nothing monumental enough to sway the entire public opinion. The protests were far and in between and didn't storm the country on a daily basis. The age of the protest singers are over. Artists no longer have their hands in the political tide of the people and America is run by apathy.

I wonder then if national dissent is even possible today as it used to be. Is it possible that an entire country could come together under one specific cause? The cynic in me says no cause could ever stir us from our ease and luxuries, but the efficacious in me stands by  the New School students who rose up on a very local level. So perhaps if the cause were large enough we could shape change like our parents did in the 70s.

And then how would we do it? The same way they did in the 70s and the same way the new school students did it. We'd have to shut down the country. Stop the infrastructure and stop the flow of money. Protests then, don't change from decade to decade. They still require the masses to stop what they're doing and champion their own voices. But with so many different voices out there today, there is no one ring to rule them all, one cause to champion them all, one voice to move a nation.
Most protests today all over the world are in order to be seen on TV, or at least youtube. You connect to the bar fighting discussion Morgan, but I think it is not only to fight but to be seen, and to be part of a group.

For example, a couple of years ago there was an exhibit in the Berkeley library of works on Abu Ghraib by Botero. Of course this led to protest outside the library - of nude people with whips. Yes, I'm not sure what they were protesting, I guess Abu Ghraib, but really they just wanted some excuse to show themselves naked and be in a group. People are lonely. Soon after, and still in Berkeley, there was a nude protest, with a group picture, to save a couple of Oak trees (which were just in case being inhabited by a few people at the time).

People excuse it by saying that the nudity brings the media and that helps the cause. The cause usually being getting naked.
I obviously don't mind the nudity, but I do find it pathetic.
Compare this to the nudity of the 70s which was based on freedom and you see a very big change.

I also couldn't help seeing the irony of your NYU example where people occupy a cafeteria in order to protest an occupation. It is strange how militant a lot of the pacifist groups have become. These bear only a very slight resemblance to the 70s sit-ins (nor to the rationale of the black panthers).

Most protests today come from a mix of simply looking for some cause, wanting to be in a group, and if at all possible get naked and see some breasts. Was it like that in the 70s, maybe also, but at least I imagine there was more substance then.
I'd say protests have always been about being seen. Today the problem for would-be protesters is that there are so many different mediums and screens running all the time, and most of the people watching those screens can't be bothered to watch something so boring as a sit-in. Protests are shifting from the local sector to the masses via the internet which at once makes it easier in some ways and harder in others. Like-minded people can now connect from opposite ends of the country, or even opposite sides of the globe, in order to spread their causes and agendas. But along with that availability and global accessibility there also comes so many distractions that any single cause finds it harder to achieve its goals.

I don't think there are fewer substantial causes any more, I just think they are having a harder time evolving into a position of prominence. The two cases you mentioned are unique Morgan because of their old-world protest style. Being on TV wouldn't have really helped them because both causes were isolated in their own communities. The only pressure for those school administrations could possibly have come from the professors and students and parents who belong to the community, being seen on the TV and online wouldn't have been as helpful as it was for the protests in Iran.

Nudity as used in protests now lacks any meaning as you say John and is really just a non-creative attention grabber to make up for the missing substance. In the history of protesting as much importance has been put on the mode and strategy of the protest as the cause with due right. Protests are an evolutionary phenomena, it is likely that the tools that once were effective in raising awareness are no longer useful. Protests have to be unique and new or else the public won't care. Nudity does draw attention, but that is more spectacle than inspiring thought. Though at the time it was first employed, nudity as you said John did usefully voice the public's need for freedom of speech.

I think to organize a truly effective protest in today's environment the people involved need to unite a cause with an effective campaign strategy. In the examples you gave Morgan the two groups employed the same strategy and technique and met with completely different results. What can be learned from their success / failure? It seems that though it was an effective strategy occupation the NYU group failed because of an insubstantial and meaningless cause. The New School one succeeded with the same technique because of a united cause and persistence.

So in conclusion, protests are not dead by any means today. It merely requires a different methodology. And for those who want to successfully stage a protest do your homework. A lot can be learned from going back over the successful protests of the past.
There's a pretty good documentary about the radical group from the 1970s known as the Weatherman or the Weather Underground. The group was known for their violent methods which organized dozens of bombings around the United States in the mid 70s. They bombed various government buildings including the pentagon and the Capitol building, always announcing ahead of time so people could evacuate. Other actions the group oversaw included the jail breakout of Timothy Leary and the leading of various protests. Though their methods were almost strictly violent, they never harmed a single person save for themselves. In 1970 three members of the Weatherman died when a bomb they were preparing exploded while they were working on it.

I personally think the actions of The Weather Underground were akin to terrorism and only hurt their movement by radicalizing their message. They alienated people who may have supported them had they not relied on such explosive measures and they also endangered their own cause by inviting the attention of federal investigators. And yet, they did manage to hold onto the support of a surprising number of youth organizations and other radical ones including The Black Panthers. But I think that is mostly indicative of the resounding anger of the time period. Anger about the war, anger about the race, anger about sex, and anger about control. Even though the group never killed a bystander I don't know if there is any justification for the terror they enacted.

But historically, when protests don't work, hasn't the answer always been violence? Don't revolutions evolve out of protests that are left unanswered? And is that wrong? I mean America was created by a violent uprising and for most of human history independence has only been won after a fight. The Weather Underground wanted to overthrow the government, that is not a protest group, that is a revolutionary group. Can governments be toppled without a violent revolution?

I wonder if it is ever ethical to protest violently. In Iran for instance, the protests have turned violent because the protesters were hit first. Is that a universal guideline to staging a violent uprising or even a violent protest? Had members of the youth from which the Weather Underground were formed been threatened or hurt by the government would their actions have been justified? Gandhi would have said no, but what are the ethics to it?

 Can peaceful protests really enact monumental change? Is violence ever needed?
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Latest Post: August 29, 2009 at 7:08 PM
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