February 9, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)


If you know of a better planet, go to it.

The idea for the above epigram came from a World War I cartoon that showed two British soldiers in a fox hole or trench. One says, "If you know of a better hole, go to it."

If you watch the television news, you would get the impression that the world is being greatly influenced by masses of people carrying signs and shouting or singing. Is it true that people protesting make things change, or is it just more of the baloney that we are fed by the media? Are the news reports very different from the commercials, which we should all know are mostly lies? Does real change come about because a mass of people march or carry signs and shout or sing?

When a group of people demonstrate, there is invariably another group of protesters touting the opposite point of view. Do the most flamboyant protesters triumph? Does the other side triumph, or doesn't it make any difference? Some people think that God is on the side of right. But both sides think that they are right and they firmly believe that God is on their side.

When Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, did that end segregation? Sorry, but it didn't. She was a symbol that the time was ripe to end segregation. Had she done it 10 years earlier, she would have been thrown off of the bus, or worse. Had she not done it at all, the same changes would have happened, in part because a lot of people boycotted the transportation system. Martin Luther King and the marches were not the beginning, but the end of the movement to end segregation. But the media loves symbols. That's what TV is all about. Symbols also occupies an inordinate amount of space in history books.

You may believe that segregation was stopped by large numbers of people marching. Along with the marches, many people stopped patronizing segregated businesses; they stopped spending money. Like a kid with a tantrum, demonstrations don't really work very well. However, boycotts do.

The worse part of the impression that people can change the world by carrying signs and shouting is that many young people are led to believe that it really works and it doesn't. The things that have been changed have been changed by things other than demonstrations. A strike does not succeed because pickets carry signs. Nor does it succeed because a few heads are busted. It succeeds if a lot of people stop patronizing a business, or if skilled workers stop working, bringing the businesses to a halt. To be effective, whatever action is taken has to be measured in $$$$, and the more $$$$$$$$ the better.

My father was a revolutionary in his youth. I was told by him to "make a better world." Fortunately, he didn't tell me how to do it. He also told me to think for myself, otherwise I might have spent a lot of my time carrying a sign and marching and shouting. I might even have gotten my head busted or worse.

If protest doesn't work, how about violence? I think that violence works better than protest. The problem is that the response to violence is usually more violence. You can get killed. Is what you are trying to accomplish worth dying for? I doubt it. Besides, the new world that you helped to create will end up being run by the same kind of people who made for the problems in the first place. After the Russian revolution, it became obvious that the evils of czarist Russia were replaced by the evils of the Communist regime. The czar's secret police was replace by the soviet secret police.

So why are we led to believe that protest is effective? For one thing, you can't show a picture on the tube of people NOT buying things, hence we get those images of people yelling and carrying signs. There is a big difference between image and object, illusion and substance. Illusion is make believe and substance is real. Making a society better takes time and effort. It doesn't happen overnight because a mass of people carry signs and shout. Yet, that is the impression that we are left with by the media.

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