How Not to Stage a Political Protest

No War in Syria Men

The “We can march if you are up to it” San Diego Rally for No War in Syria

Last weekend, on August 31st, activists around the world staged rallies against United States’ involvement in Syria. The movement, aptly titled No War with Syria, was largely set up and organized through social media, calling on citizens of all major cities to come together in opposition to President Obama’s desire for “limited military strikes” against Syrian forces, for the use of Sarin gas during its two-year-long civil war. At the time of these protests, it was not clear whether Bashar al-Assad’s military had used the chemical weapon, or if it had been unleashed by one of the numerous militant forces fighting for control of the country.

I attended the San Diego rally, curious to see what others thought of events unfolding on the other side of the world. Admittedly, I was not entirely sure this would be an effective or impressive rally; the impotence of the Occupy movement was fresh on my mind, with its ineffectual camping in public places having achieved nothing of note after almost a year. Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with Occupy when it started, and devoted a great deal of time to following and documenting the movement, especially as it forced the media to pay attention, and terrified Capitol Hill with its sheer size and scope. Occupy Wall St. was the kind of movement that could have forced much needed change upon the political realm, but squandered its potential by doing nothing. Their lack of leadership, and desire to solve every single social issue, instead of focusing solely on the banks and politicians who sold us out and ruined the economy, wasted all the influence Occupy had amassed; I saw shadows of the exact same tendencies in NWS San Diego, and did not leave the rally with a desire to continue supporting it.

The rally took place outside the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. By the time I’d arrived, there was a respectable gathering of about a hundred people all from a diverse set of backgrounds. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, youth, seniors, veterans, and even a few members of Anonymous were in attendance. Their signs, however, were my first warning that this would not be an effective gathering. Hidden amongst the usual anti-war signs and slogans were a few signs protesting Monsanto and calling for the legalization of weed, a clear indication that the purpose of a No War with Syria protest was somehow not completely clear to all of its attendants. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for having debates about GMOs and recreational drug use, but keep those to their own forum. They have no place at an anti-war rally, and advocating these subjects does little but detract energy from the primary goal of this protest. Unfortunately, this was something the rally’s speakers did not take into account, and they proved to be the most disappointing, and infuriating, part of my entire afternoon.

No War in Syria Monsanto

The first speaker decided that the most appropriate thing to do was lead the group in a meditation on the “peace in our hearts,” while ringing a bell, to help us find inner peace. Or something. I have no idea what his goal was, but he was one of the most aggravating people I’ve had to listen to. This man’s actions are the embodiment of why nobody on the right respects liberal rallies; these pointless, feel-good acts do nothing to further the agenda, and only serve to make participants (who get washed up in the moment) feel like they’ve accomplished something when they have not. There is a time and place for being calm and peaceful, and a protest against the bombing of another country is not one of them. If your blood isn’t boiling from the idea that your government wants to attack another country, again, for no damn good reason, you have no place at such a protest. This is when you get angry, and loud, and passionate, and make it perfectly clear to your representatives that they are in no way representing you, the constituent, by raining death on another country. If you want to feel good about doing nothing, take a nap.

The next two speakers ran liberal radio news stations, because nothing says “forward-thinking progressive” like the radio. These guys, as I alluded to earlier, could not stay on target with their speeches. Instead of focusing on the idea of getting embroiled in another country’s issues, which may incite all-out war when their allies get involved, these guys felt the need to mention drug legalization and prison overcrowding. Again, these are important issues, but they are debates for another time. You want to deal with them, set up a separate protest.

Following the DJs was one of two speakers I have any respect for: a Syrian-born woman whose family has endured the hell of the Syrian civil war for the past two years. She was articulate and passionate, and spot-on about President Obama’s disregard for American law in his desire to strike Syrian forces without congressional approval. She was so on point, in fact, that local news affiliates KUSI and ABC, who had placed mics on the speaker’s podium, withdrew said mics and left the rally as this woman spoke. Apparently, it’s no longer okay to point out that our own leaders fail to uphold the laws they hold the rest of us to. Spot on reporting guys; I can’t wait to see you not present the facts on CNN when you make it to the big leagues.

The other speaker I still have respect for is a member of Veterans for Peace. A Vietnam veteran, he knows first-hand what it’s like to be embroiled in a pointless, thankless war, that the citizens he’s serving want no part of. His is a powerful, passionate voice that needs to be heard much more often than it is. Of course, with this country’s respect of the veterans it so publically venerates, I’m not surprised he and his ilk go largely unheard.

Following Veterans for Peace was easily the greatest source of irritation I’ve ever had the displeasure of listening to. This man had the audacity to compare himself to Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest civil rights activists and orators of the 20th Century, and certainly of US history. I’m sorry, but no, you do not get to make that comparison. You know the difference between the people attending Occupy and No War with Syria, and those who protested in the Civil Rights Movement? The latter group suffered for their cause. You have done nothing but stand in a public pavilion during an uncomfortably warm day. Do not insult the accomplishments of Dr. King by comparing yourself to him; you have done nothing, and continue to do nothing, to deserve such distinction, and until you’re willing to face down an army of police officers, suffer at their uncalled for brutality, and do so day after day, rally after rally, in a nonviolent manner, you are nothing like your idol. Stop lying to yourself, and the rest of us, that you have gone through anything akin to what this man, and those like him, did to achieve their goals.

Following these speeches, the organizers of the rally said that the agenda for the remainder of the afternoon was to have closing comments from those of us who were present, then exchange information with each other and network, and “we can march if you’re up for it.” If that quote doesn’t say it all, I don’t know how to explain the impotence of these people any better. If you don’t have the drive and willpower to march for your convictions on a hot day, you sure as hell shouldn’t be speaking to motivate others. The people who make real change in the world have not only the fiery passion to drive themselves forward, but the ability to pass this flame on to others, so that they too are willing to do what it takes to see their visions become reality. The inability of any of the speakers and organizers to do this is why No War with Syria San Diego will amount to nothing. Protests in other cities may do better, and I certainly hope this is the case, but that will only come from people willing to put themselves on the line for their convictions. This half-assed, feel-good, we-can-march-if-you’re-up-to-it attitude is exactly why organized events like Occupy and NWS fail to be effective, and it needs to change if we are to do anything to fix the status quo.

Photos courtesy of author

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About Chris Hicke

Chris Hicke is a student living in Southern California, where he studies music theory & production, as well as graphic design. In addition to politics and social issues, he also writes for Creative Edge Music, a site devoted to events taking place in the music industry, from world tours to artists releasing their debuts to the world.

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