Tuesday, November 09, 2010

What Does It Take?

A couple of semi-related stories to put on your table today.
First, a tale of past hope and present woe:

Frustration over 10.4 percent unemployment in surrounding Stark County has caused more political instability than Canton has known in generations. John Boccieri, a conservative Democrat, won the seat in Congress from the local district in 2008, only to lose to Jim Renacci, a Republican, last week. “People are scared,” said David B. Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Akron. “When the economy is bad, the party in power gets punished.”

In 1933, the fear was visceral. J. L. White, father of seven children, wrote in his thank-you note to B. Virdot that he was considering suicide just before he received the gift.

For other families, Mr. Stone’s gift provided the only holiday cheer that bleak winter. Olive Hillman used the $5 check to buy her 8-year-old daughter a doll with a porcelain face and leather arms.

“I was thrilled to get it,” said the daughter, Geraldine Hillman Fry, now 85. “It really was the only doll that I ever had in my life, so it meant a lot to me.”

This winter will not be as bad as the winter of 1933, four years into the Great Depression. Endless unemployment created abject poverty and remember, there really wasn't any unemployment insurance to speak of. People lived hand to mouth, stealing what they couldn't buy but needed. It was grim, oh so grim. Next Christmas could be as bad, as Republicans in Congress scale back unemployment, and attempt to dismantle healthcare and Medicare.

It's enough to make you angry.

Speaking of which...(h/t to Blondesense)

If 3 million Americans all peacefully surrounded the White House and Capitol Hill, holding signs saying "We're Not Leaving Until the Too Big to Fails which Caused the Economic Crisis are Reined In", things would change pretty fast.

3 million might sound like a lot of people. But many millions of people read popular alternative financial and economic news sites. You are probably one of millions of people who will read this essay (by the time it is published by some of the larger sites).

In other words, it's not even a question of convincing other people to go. We - those who read alternative financial websites - could do it ourselves.

He's right, of course. And he's wrong. But it's an interesting article.
The author makes the comparison of the current anger, from the left and the right, to the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s. He points out that public demonstrations helped rein in and end both established practices, and there is no doubt that occured. Indeed, it also included violent confrontation (which the author repudiates, but rather naively). That was part of the art, however. If the students demonstrating against the war or the civil rights movement did not include some violence, it would have made for bad television.
And it's television that really made the difference. And here's where the author falls short.
I look back to the recent Bush war on Iraq, and I see a million protestors in the US alone the day before the first bombs dropped, and tens of millions worldwide...and I see the war go right on, and for even longer than Vietnam. It's not that the rallies weren't covered, they were. Maybe not as extensively as the organizers would have liked, but they entered the consciousness of Americans.
I saw two million people gather on the Mall in DC to watch President Obama swear into office. I saw 250,000 show up for a comedy show. It's not that activist people or fans can't be motivated. That's not the target audience, however.
The target audience is the kid in Canton, OH seeing his parents struggling to put food on the table, embarrassed to ask for food stamps or charity. The target audience is the commuter stopping in at the local bar for a beer before dinner, watching the news, or the single mom reheating the chicken she bought down the block for her three kids.
It's easy to attract people to an anti-war movement. The message is simple: "No More War". Likewise, civil rights rallies have a simple message: "Justice For All."
A rally with the message "We're Not Leaving Until the Too Big to Fails which Caused the Economic Crisis are Reined In"? Eh, not so much...
See, it wasn't the rallies that stopped Nixon and Johnson, or convinced Congress to do the right thing. Rallies are fueled by anger and anger disappates quickly (we're about to see that with the Teabaggers. Hear much from them since the election?) It's also too easy to characterize the folks who attend those rallies, right or left. "Moonbat" or "Teabagger", pick your poison. Who wants to sympathize with either of those, for fear of being tarred with the same brush?
But make the message of the rally transcend the rally itself, like Jon Stewart and sStephan Colbert came close to doing, and suddenly Middle Americans are paying attention. And they're educating themselves, and talking to their friends.
"Say, did you watch the news?" And it is in that dialogue that protest takes shape.