Why protest the RNC?

Why the street protest is not always the best form of political mobilization.

I am told by my editors that I have summer readers online. Walking around campus I see copies of the Daily missing and I infer from this that at least some of these people read my column.

But sometimes I wonder. For instance, take my column from two weeks ago. At the end of it, I implored those who were planning on protesting the September Republican National Convention in St. Paul to write me and tell my why they were going to do so. The radio silence was deafening. Not a single e-mail, online comment or letter to the editor. Are RNC protesters too busy manning their battle stations to read my columns? Is no one protesting the RNC?

Given that I promised to write this column responding to the correspondence I received, I thought I would have a conundrum with my deadline rolling around. Luckily, my fellow columnist John Sharkey did respond to my request in a roundabout way in his column last week. So for today, I’ll respond to John and once again ask those who are going to protest to write in and react to what I write. If I still get no response, I’ll move on to another topic and assume that every single protester was swayed by my argument that protesting the RNC is not worth our time.

In his column, Sharkey makes the case that protests would be a way for the masses to assert control and “register their displeasure effectively.” He laments that the British failed to do this during George W. Bush’s recent European vacation despite having done so during the run-up to the Iraq War when worldwide protests numbered in the millions.

However, I want to turn this argument on its head a bit and instead posit that these reactions – and their use and non-use of the street protest as an organizational tool – were exactly the correct responses. Before the Iraq War, many of us saw the impending disaster of such a transparently awful war on the horizon. We took to the streets in order to yell “Stop!” Maybe this was naïve, but it was still necessary and had a clear goal in mind – to stop a war. As we all know, it did not work, but this still does not mean it was not worth trying given the clearly definable goal we were articulating.

However, I would argue that in the case of Bush’s recent trip to Britain and in the case of the RNC coming to St. Paul, there is no such definable goal for street protests to organize around. As to the former, everyone knows Bush is not going to end the war or stop torturing people or do anything else the vast majority of the globe wants him to do. He is an international pariah who is impervious to outside voices. He will not change his ways, so it is best to ignore him and treat him as the joke that he is.

The same goes for McCain at the RNC. He has clearly stated, as he did in 2005, that “on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I’ve been totally in agreement and support of President Bush.” Thus, in the same way as Bush, what would be the point of protesting McCain at the RNC – especially when he might benefit from the media spectacle protests provide?

In other words, what I’m saying is that protests are not, in every case, the correct political organizational tool. They need a definable goal to them and I don’t see one for the RNC protests. However, feel free to convince me otherwise.

Jason Stahl welcomes comments at [email protected]