What are the tactics that can best be used to try to pressure powerful, self-serving, joined-at-the-hip governments and corporations in Canada and the United States to do the right thing and recognize the interests of everyday people?
While big marches and sit-ins during the struggle for black rights and an end to the Vietnam War were effective tools for promoting change, such tactics in North America now appear to be losing steam as effective tactics.
These days, it seems too often that protest marches and the like lack specific goals and are organized by folks that have unrealistic ideas as to what they can achieve.
Take tomorrow’s (September 17th) planned protest, Occupy Wall Street, in New York.
Adbusters magazine of Vancouver was the first to call for a day of action to protest the power concentrated on Wall Street.
The protest has the important long-term goal of ending private control of American’s financial system. They want publicly-owned, non-profit banks established in every state. While this obviously won’t happen, at least not now, it is important to introduce the public to such concepts.
Thousands of people are expected to march on America’s main financial district, as well as on financial districts in Paris, London, Brussels, etc.
But it’s all pretty loosey-goosey.
“If the police block us temporarily from occupying Wall Street”, said their most recent Tactical Briefing, “then let’s turn all of lower Manhattan into our Tahrir Square. Let’s sing our songs in the lobby of Goldman Sachs and in Chase Manhattan Plaza… .
“Bring signs, flowers, food and a revolutionary mood … and a commitment to absolute nonviolence in the Gandhian tradition.” They admit that “anything can and will happen.” Okay, but will this event have a positive impact on the hugely important cause of bringing the all-powerful banks to their knees?
No, it won’t.
First of all, there’s no specific achievable goal behind the demonstration.
I can’t guess how many people will show up, but if even 5,000 enthusiastic radical types block Wall Street–even on a Saturday when the financial markets are shut down–I imagine the New York police will be pissed!
The likelihood of violence–perhaps a police riot, where agitated red-neck officers come unglued–seems more than possible to me. Unfortunately, the whole event is likely to just annoy the people who could perhaps make a difference–people who have money in banks.
The financial sector is a key element in the integrated Canadian and U.S. government-corporate establishment, which is now more powerful than it has been in more than a century. Their brutal use of neo-liberalism is destroying the lives of millions of people around the globe.
So we’re coming to a point where more dramatic tactics could be employed to try to challenge the establishment’s power and prevent them from destroying the western world financially and, not too long from now, prevent them from totally destroying the environment.
Giant corporations use their control of mainstream media to tell people that, while the economy may be approaching another meltdown, there’s no alternative to the current system.
When was the last time you saw a corporate newspaper or TV station explain the ideology behind neo-liberalism? During the last election campaign, while the mainstream press took every opportunity to link the NDP with communism or socialism, not once did I see the Harper government identified as neo-liberals.
But the establishment is so all-powerful it is almost impossible to image any action that would make them change their direction. Nevertheless, both radical and ordinary citizens cannot sit idly by.
The key to forcing change usually involves identifying the weakness of an unjust government or a destructive corporation and then develop a strategy to attack them along those lines.
As for Saturday’s planned protest in New York, one way to get the banks attention would be to hurt them where it hurts most–in the pocket book. Put 300,000 people in the streets for up to a week and, despite the arrests of thousands of people, it might mean the temporary closing of the New York Stock Exchange. Whether it would empower ordinary people–like people millions of Europeans have taken to the streets recently–is questionable.
Then there’s the Internet. Effective use of the Internet as a tool to both educate the public and force change on a global scale is perhaps one of our best hopes. But radicals are just learning how to use the growing resources available to them–and figuring out how to avoid jail for their sometimes questionable actions.
Civil disobedience is accepted by many people–like those arrested in Washington recently during the protest over the Keystone tar-sands XL pipeline – but every individual must decide whether they want to go further and disobey laws that may be anti-democratic.
Back in the 1950s, Chicago activist Saul Alinsky helped poorly treated welfare recipients win better services by helping them jam the phone lines at city hall.
Using the Courts to argue legal cases, and create legal cases–such as the recently recognized class action suit over whether a drug intended to ease menopause symptoms caused breast cancer–are proving effective in Canada.
Unfortunately, boycotts do not grab the imagination of the general public the way they once did, partly because the corporate mainstream media chooses not to give them much attention.
In other parts of the world, where neo-liberal policies and uncontrolled market speculation have hit ordinary people hard, there are dozens of huge demonstrations and protests. But in North America, most people have been conditioned to disapprove of protests.
In Canada, following the May victory of the Harper Conservatives, it has been extremely disappointing that large and small progressive and liberal minded organizations–all the way from the Council of Canadian to labour groups to Greenpeace–did not come together to develop strategies to try to slow down the backward march of Stephen Harper.
More than anything else, our best hope of overcoming the neo-liberals, and possibly helping the NDP gain power, is to push our organizations to come together across a wide ranging spectrum of interests and develop inclusive strategies. More on this in a later blog.
Nick Fillmore, an editor and producer with the CBC for more than 20 years, also has an activist background. In Nova Scotia, he was one of the founders of the provincial human rights organization, and helped organize public housing tenants as well as the Blind Rights Action Movement.