"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin

Mar 8, 2009

Naomi Wolf Slams "Fake Activism"

"Disney-like" marches won't be effective unless risks are taken to disrupt business as usual.

"Magic Kingdom" security forces may be called if protesters are actually making change.
Image: Incredimazing

After months of planning and organizing, contacting city officials and receiving the proper zoning permits, a large protest march commences in a major U.S. city. Tens of thousands arrive and orderly march down the prearranged protest route that steers clear of the busy city center. Along the way a few hundred pedestrians look at the signs and creative costumes that protesters brought to draw peoples attention to their message. Marchers snap pictures and post them to their personal blogs so their friends can see how they spent their afternoon advocating for peace and justice. Hopefully, a few photographers and journalists from the major media outlets will be there to take their own pictures and get population estimates from the police. In the end it will have been a "successful" protest that followed all the rules and where no one was inconvenienced.

Successful, in this context, essentially means useless. As Naomi Wolf points out (and what many in the social justice movement have been saying for years) is that the only way institutions of power and authority will be willing to change policy is if they are forced to. Blocking traffic, creating inconveniences to commerce or (in rare cases where the first two have been tried and failed) targeting specific items or buildings for property destruction are the only effective ways to remove unjust policies.

Naomi Wolf, author of the classic feminist book The Beauty Myth and, more recently, The End of America and Give Me Liberty, has a few excellent comments about this in a talk she gave before the Hudson Union Society on Jan. 16.

For the full talk click here.

If we genuinely believe in creating social change then we are going to have to be willing to accept certain risks. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Gandhi understood this. So do the People's Alliance for Democracy in Thailand, the National Union of Education Workers in Oaxaca, Mexico and the Tibetan People's Uprising Movement.

Hopefully the national "leaders" of the various social justice movements (I'm looking at you A.N.S.W.E.R. and Human Rights Campaign) will be willing to take the necessary risks in order to be effective in the years to come. But, as is usually the case, it will take people on the ground to force these organizations into being effective, whether they like it or not.

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