Monday, October 17, 2011

Protests only make sense when they stand for something specific.

The current "occupy" protests remind me a lot of that great line in Network"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!"  But I find myself increasingly frustrated by the tenor of the protests, and not just because some of them have an anti-Semitic tenor.  (Financial protests that blame the Jews?  Shocker.) 

Of course, we're frustrated about the current economic climate.  We have friends and neighbors who are suffering from unemployment or, if they have jobs, they're facing reduced benefits and the risk of layoffs.  We have friends and neighbors who have lost homes or who are at risk of losing their homes.  We have friends and neighbors who can't afford their prescription medicines.  We see the pain in their eyes.

But where are the specific solutions in those "occupy" protests?  The great protests of the past involved specifics:  desegregation, an end to discrimination, equal rights. 

One of my favorite movies (yep, written by Aaron Sorkin) has this line:  "We've got serious problems, and we need serious people."  Hanging out in a group without having some notion of what action that group wants to take (or whether any of the proposals make sense) isn't a serious solution to a serious problem.  I'm with David Brooks on this one:  oversimplying the problem as 99 vs. 1 gets us nowhere (here).

1 comment:

Jim Milles said...

I think this is an extremely limited view of past protest/reform/social movements. If you choose to look at the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s, for example, in isolation, you can chart it as the development of the NAACP's litigation strategy. But surely its roots go back through years of Jim Crow, the Civil War, the Abolition movement, and hundreds of years of resistance and dissatisfaction. Similarly with the womens' movement: you can define it in terms of access to contraception and abortion, or the right to vote, but then you're ignoring centuries of unrest and oppression that finally took the form of a limited number of legal goals.

It's typical of us as lawyers to want to define broad social and historical movements in terms of specifiable legal reforms, but that both diminishes the historical and social importance of the long growth of reforms, and enables us to put a cap on certain limited achievements as though those movements are over.