irregular guy IRREGULAR TIMES

January 21, 2003
"Freezin' for a reason"

So said one sign in the picket line outside Senator John Edwards' office in Raleigh, North Carolina. The picket was called today to follow on the heels of demonstrations in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Durham, Chicago, Santa Fe and cities in 32 nations. I attended the DC protest, which easily surpassed 150,000. By my count just 300 protesters came to Raleigh today.

Although the numbers for these anti-war protests were starkly different, both actions succeeded on their own terms. The role of a national demonstration is to seize the headlines for a day and prompt discussion of an issue. Local rallies, especially in conservative states like North Carolina, demonstrate that a movement and its ideas are taking hold beyond strongholds of activism like New York and California. National protests convey the power of many people; local events communicate that these people are neighbors, not far-off weirdos.

By many measures of success, a small protest close to home can do better than a large protest concentrated far off. Let's do the math. If it took 150,000 people to get coverage by about 500 media outlets, then that's about 300 people attending per item of coverage. The Raleigh protest took only 300 people to get coverage by 6 media outlets. That's not much coverage overall, but it's much more efficient: 50 people per news story isn't bad at all, considering how many thousands will hear the story.



When you count the work put into each event, the advantage of a local protest becomes even more marked. It took me just three hours to drive down, protest, and come back. Total expenses out of my pocket: $10 ($5 for lunch, $3 for parking, and $2 for a pair of bumperstickers). I lost an entire weekend getting to and protesting in Washington, DC, plus hundreds of dollars on food and a hotel. Yowch! Some close friends have a baby girl and just couldn't manage to get away for a whole weekend. But they could get away for an afternoon to protest in Brightleaf Square in Durham (a full thousand rallied there on the same day while I was in DC).

Perhaps the easiest protest of all doesn't require you to leave your room. Writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or contacting your elected representative doesn't even require you to leave your desk. MoveOn.org is a stellar clearinghouse for coordinated online anti-war action. The genius of Move On is that a lot of people do a little bit of low-cost work to generate an immediately noticeable avalanche of visible pressure.

This is clearly not the Sixties anymore, when people were expected to devote their lives to a movement they believed in. Protest has gotten smarter: you can choose the level of activism that suits your level of commitment and freedom. Regardless of your level of activity, the actions you take are vital. Because of worldwide opposition, George Bush's machines of war have been slowed to a crawl. We are making a difference. We are changing history.

Will you be able to tell your grandchildren you lent a hand?



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