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Re: Reply to Adam Starr about "activist demonstrations"
by Threehegemons
17 March 2002 23:36 UTC
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<On the contrary, I do take the new phase of
"anti-sytematic movements" seriously. I was in Seattle
at the WTO demonstrations and I pose the question,
"what effect did 60,000 people on the streets have on
policy change?" >

An argument can be made (in fact, often is made, see, for example, Thomas 
Rochon, Culture Moves) that the greatest impact of social movements tends to be 
on the ideological climate.  Changes in behavior (often much broader than, and 
at the same time less than, the desired policy change) tend to derive from a 
new climate of what is tolerable.  The Seattle et al demonstrations (hardly the 
only activity of the 'anti-globalization' movement) have already had a notable 
impact on wider thinking, epitomized by the confused mood at this year's WEF 
and the defensive tone now used in the establishment press when talking about 
the World Bank/IMF etc.  

I'm not sure what has led you to expect that everything changes after one (or 
even x number) of protests in the first place.  Barring those which actually 
trigger an insurrectionary climate, the most visible protests are usually as 
much for those within the movement (who hopefully are doing a lot more to 
effect change) as those without--the big protests affirm and renew the 
solidarity the movement has generated, and help bring the cause to the 
attention of a wider public.  They don't immediately change things, however 
much some within the movement insist on generating almost apocalyptic 
expectations--'stop the WTO!' etc.

Finally, I don't think we should kid ourselves that the establishment press has 
ever been or will be sympathetic to left movements.  My friends who were around 
in the sixties told me that they used to end anti-war demonstrations with a 
detour to the New York Times building, out of frustration with how rarely the 
paper covered them.  In the Central America movement ten years ago we had 
identical complaints.  But even bad official press generates interest in the 
movements, and helps to encourage many interested to pursue more authentic 
channels to learn about the thinking and activities within the movement.

Steven Sherman

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