Why the Bailout Protest Will Fizzle Like So Many Protests Before

In the wake of this weekend's news about incredibly large bonuses the AIG (via your tax dollars) is paying to the very division within the company...

In the wake of this weekend's news about incredibly large bonuses the AIG (via your tax dollars) is paying to the very division within the company that has, in no small part, contributed to all our economic woes, I was delighted to hear that there is a march planned on Wall Street for April 3rd. I've been wondering where the populist outrage is for a while, and now, it seems it has come. I'd love to go. Except the protest is all wrong.The title of the march is Bail Out People, Not Banks. But, sadly, what could be a unifying political movement seems to have been put together as a sort of Christmas tree protest, where every group gets to hang their most important issue. On the very, very poorly designed Bail Out People, Not Banks website (graphic designers do not care about social justice, it seems), you can see that we won't just be marching about the absurdity of the financial system and the filthy lucre it created. We'll also be marching to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, end the violence in Gaza, protest racism, show solidarity with all immigrants. Apparently, we're even marching against increasing the fares on the subways. All these things probably deserve their own marches, but by making the bailout just another issue on the litany of social justice issues, it does the protest a disservice and limits the political reach that its message will have.There could be a broad-based political movement behind refocusing the economy to benefit middle- and lower-class workers and not the financial wizards who gambled us into oblivion. I'm convinced a lot of people would get behind that, from Brooklyn to Des Moines. But making this about all the issues that one very specific slice of people think is wrong with America alienates a much larger swath of people who would otherwise be happy to go yell at some bankers and their elected representatives. And once this protest is on the news, and people see the same crusty hippies with "No Blood For Oil" signs chanting "This is what fascism looks like," the protest will have exactly the same effect as all the war protests of the last eight years, which is to say, no effect at all, because -right or wrong-the vast majority of Americans don't care for that rhetoric.Protests and marches have worked as a political tool in the past, though not recently. There are probably a whole host of reasons why their efficacy have declined in the past 40 years, but one reason is that the people who protest are predictable. Everyone knows the positions of the 100,000 people who go to protests, and those protesters have already elected politicians who follow their view points. What you need is to get the people who you don't expect to be involved, so that when their congresspeople and business leaders see them marching in the street, they realize they must focus on the issue. This is a problem that could unite people, because it is so transparently unfair and so obviously affects the average taxpayer. You could mobilize the masses in ways that anti-war protests never did. And once that many people were together, protesting, there might be a chance at actual change. But unless you get a more broad cross-section of the American people involved in your cause to the point that they're out in the street with you, no one is going to listen to you; you need to expand your base, and that means focusing on issues with broader appeal and leaving the rest for a different protest. Why the organizers behind these movements can't figure out this basic political calculus is beyond me.So, feel free to go protest on the 3rd. I'm going to go on my own and throw some eggs at the doors of AIG. It will be equally as ineffective, but I'll feel better about myself.
Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

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