Friday, April 28, 2006

Opinion: Effectiveness of Protests

A phrase that gets thrown around often in Canadian society is that "protests don't accomplish anything." As its prominent that I am an activist I often encounter this style of thinking. This mode of thought either comes about from not knowing history and current events or a feeling that seeing as protests don't accomplish tasks instantly they are therefore useless.

History shows the usefulness of protest all around the world. The situation in Nepal is a great example where, though democracy is not fully restored yet the King's absolute rule is being stripped away. The people of Nepal were able to change their situation not by outside intervention or staying at home, but instead by taking to the streets and demanding their rights effectively shutting down the country. If they had not taken to the streets in protest the likelihood of the King relinquishing control would be slim. France recently is another powerful example of mass protests shutting down a country. Over a million people took to the streets of France for weeks on end to oppose a law that discriminated against youth allowing them to be fired without cause for two years.

A counter response to those may be that, those are huge numbers of people and is therefore different then small groups and protests. This mode of thinking I disagree with as well. Even if a protest is fairly small it can either help build large amounts of awareness or even disruption. One example of a effective protest that was small in Ottawa would include the Michael Ignatieff protest where four students stood up during his speech at uOttawa and turned around wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods, then the first person on the question period was a student with a direct question using quotes of him supporting torture in the past. Another example in Ottawa was just after the Iraq invasion where about fifteen protesters were able to shut down access to the United Kingdom High Commission for a few hours. So, small groups if done correctly can have a major impact.

There are four types of protests which are effective. The movements in Nepal and France are two examples large mass movements who effective shut down the country to get direct results on an issue. The second are protests to raise awareness, the Ignatieff protest was one of these where five people were able to bring their message across in all the major media and is even now in Michael Ignatieff's biography on Wikipedia. The third type are those to disrupt, the UK High Commission was an example of this. The intent is to inconvenience the actor who is causing whatever you oppose, this is done through different forms of direct action. The last I haven't talked about yet, those are solidarity protests. Solidarity demonstrations such as the one occurring tomorrow for the Six Nations in Caledonia, is done not necessarily to change the views of the offending party, but to show support and give strength to the actor in need and raise awareness on the issue. All these different forms are effective, but for different reasons. One must realize nothing about civil society has instant gratification.

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