New Orleans A question posed recently by a one of my favorite op-ed columnists, Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times, was essentially, “where have all of the protestors gone?” It wasn’t exactly her question, but close enough. She marveled at the number of mass actions and sustained protests around the world and wondered why the streets were not filled with people outraged and angry at the Trump mess and calling for his ouster or his head. In a strange way, her piece was a call-to-action, but that’s not the way it really works, is it? You can’t call up a mass movement or a demonstration by clicking on an app the same way many summon an Uber.
She’s not wrong in saying that it seems there are a lot of people are in the streets these days in different places around the world, although she may be looking at where the bullet struck, rather than understanding the trigger. Goldberg mentions the days of demonstrations in Chile over a subway increase. She notes that “austerity and corruption” have pushed a half-million in the streets in Lebanon. She could have added the severe protests over eliminating the fuel subsidy in Ecuador that drove the government to leave Quito until they rescinded the measure. Even Hong Kong, which she also cited, is responding to a perceived threat over extradition to mainland China when exercising long established rights in the city, but reporters in the Times have also documented the fact that much of the rage is also provoked by inequality and the severe housing shortages that are forcing young people to stack themselves up in small apartments like cordwood. The through line in these actions were mass movements that arose to respond to direct, personal economic threats. The resistance, particularly the women’s marches, that arose in response to Trump’s victory were provoked by directly perceived threats as well. When the kindling is there, almost any spark can start a fire, and economic issues are providing the fuel repeatedly, and once the rage breaks out and is organized into the streets often other issues become additional logs to raise the flames higher.
Threats and outrage can spark movements, but it is organization that sustains them. Governments understand this in their own way. Concessions came in many of these instances, even in Hong Kong, but organization is what it takes for them to continue. Many flowers bloomed from the post-Trump resistance, but no organizational formation arose from them that could sustain that level of action or gain the legitimacy to lead a fight now around impeachment. Furthermore, despite the outrage, the threat trigger is weak. Politics is dragging on investigations.
The issues have gotten simpler, but none of these issues restrict daily life. Furthermore, there’s a reason the government was located in Washington, DC for that purpose and not in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia that had been hotspots in the revolution. When large capital and financial cities erupt in Quito, Lima, Santiago, and even Hong Kong, the heat from the street rises to fill every room. Something like the mass protests against Vietnam were everywhere, because the draft was everywhere. No draft means fewer protests against war fought by armies of others. Something like the civil rights protests also had targets everywhere.
Change can be ignited by perceived and real threats that enlist people into movements, but has to be built and undergirded by organizations. If you build the organizations, people will come. You can’t just call them up, like an Uber, whenever you think you might want or need them.
Sorry about that, welcome to our world!
Paper ID by Sophie & the Broken Things
Thanks to KABF.