Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On Protest Movements

I was watching a documentary on the public protests in the U.S.A. during the closing years of apartheid in South Africa, protests that eventually, without financial backing but only the will of the people, brought the U.S. Congress to overthrow President Reagan's veto of a bill to impose economic sanctions against South Africa.

As I watched, I was thinking throughout of the Occupy movement in this country and overseas, beginning with Occupy Wall Street. I was thinking of the attempts of some churches - St. Paul's Cathedral in London, Trinity Wall Street in the U.S. - to show support by making indoor spaces, on a schedule, available, or to limit the number of tents and tent dwellers.

Suddenly I saw what was and is happening: If you can say you are supportive, and here are some rooms you can use, but no space, or limited, controlled space for camping out in public in protest, then you have domesticated the movement and can guarantee making it invisible, thus pulling its teeth so in the end the protest and the movement behind it will have no effect at all.

This was tried again and again during the years of protest in this country against apartheid. From outright racist observations that black people should be about dealing with drug addiction and education among their own people instead of meddling in foreign policy (best to leave it to your betters, was the implication), to the President of the United States claiming that economic sanctions would hurt the very people we hoped to save, the goal was to pull the teeth of the anti-apartheid movement.

It failed.