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Protest Works, Part the Infinity

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The real heroes of last night’s vote are not John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, or Susan Collins. They aren’t the 48 Democratic senators either. The real heroes are the direct action protestors in ADAPT that demonstrated tremendous courage in going to the offices of senators and putting their often broken bodies between those senators and ACA repeal. Everyone knew this bill was a disaster. But that didn’t stop most Republican senators from voting for it. The pressure to do so was tremendous. And the real pressure is internal. Especially in this era of exceptional partisanship, voting for the team is the highest priority for most senators. It was far easier to vote for this monstrosity than stand up to McConnell, Pence, and Trump, not to mention big donors like Adelson, Koch, and Wynn. Dean Heller knows this bill is terrible and he knows that it is bad for the people of his state. He also lacks the courage to do anything about it. I strongly believe that without the ADAPT protests, it’s quite likely at least one of those three senators votes for the bill. Such an assertion can be directly proven, but neither can it be for nearly any other protest movement in history, including the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. Most politicians will never say, “I voted against a bill because protestors came to my door.” But they will vote for or against bills based on public pressure. Direct action protest adds to that public pressure. Moreover, those direct action protests also inspire other, less radical, activists into action–calling senators, going to town halls, talking to friends and family about the issue.

I mention all of this because even at this late date, many in the LGM community, broadly defined, are not very comfortable with direct action protest. Many commenters will deny that protest helps and they write about how uncomfortable they are with protests, turning into self-parodies of liberals. This kind of direct action is not the be all and end all of political action. But like voting and lobbying, it is an absolutely required type of political action. When people see disabled and mortally ill people sacrificing themselves to save health care, not only for themselves, but for millions of people, it gives a face to the issue. Much like ACT-UP galvanized political support to fight HIV instead of just letting gays and heroin users die, ADAPT helped build political pressure against ACA repeal. We are going to need a lot more of this in the future, and I hope people step up with this kind of action. I also hope we all recognize the vitality and necessity of direct action and do what we can to support it.

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  • aardvarkcheeselog

    Someone should get a bunch of these people in front of cameras to say ” voted to kill me. Please vote in November.” To be run as shorts in every media market where an R Sen is up for reelection next year.

  • Bitter Scribe

    Great line from Edoroso today: “We won’t be safe till the last hard-liner is strangled with the entrails of the last moderate.”

    • JayB

      That’s priceless

  • Murc

    Many commenters will deny that protest helps and they write about how
    uncomfortable they are with protests, turning into self-parodies of
    liberals.

    Can I be honest?

    I absolutely know that protest works and that it helps.

    I just can’t for the life of me figure out why.

    I mean. I’ve never been a Senator or Congressman. (I’m sure the thought of Murc in the halls of power has just inspired more than a few of you to reach for some sort of liquor.) But if I were, I like to think I wouldn’t given a flying fuck that protesters showed up. You can get protesters to show up to anything. I would want to see polling that indicates these protesters represent an actual numerically significant political groundswell of support for or against something, especially among my actual constituents, and I’d also like to verify whether these are for-real protesters or some astroturf bullshit. I would especially want all those things to be the case if those protesters wanted me to do something not at all ideologically congenial.

    But I guess apparently direct action does work? I didn’t just come to this realization, I’ve known that for years. I accept that it is true, that this sort of pressure works and is valuable, but it’s always seemed highly weird to me. Politicians aren’t necessarily smart, but they’re supposed to be good at politics, and “I did this because of the protests” seems like poor politics compared to “I did this because of massive popular demand” which seems like it is very hard to actually measure via protest.

    The problem is almost certainly with me, rather than with the universe. But it’s still annoying.

    • sk7326

      That is a good question … I think it is all about the visual. A man in an expensive suit being outnumbered by a large number of regular people holding picket signs or chanting in unison is just powerful. And the one in the suit almost always looks bad – even if he is right. (see the Tea Party Protests) And (if there is enough of this) – that energy does embolden the silent majority to break their inertia and call or attend town halls, or the lower key advocacy.

      Most people don’t (or can’t) take the time from their day to do this sort of thing. But I think if they see enough people who do (in spite of similar obstacles), it can move you to do a little more.

    • Rob in CT

      From what I can tell, protest sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t work. And, like you, I have no idea why. Just like I have no idea which political messaging tactic will work/fail.

      • DocAmazing

        At a guess, I’d say “friendly media attention” (or at least “widely circulated compelling images”) and “a policy being protested that obviously does harm to people”.

        • Rob in CT

          Right, but that leads to what will get the media to be friendly…
          Work the refs, and never stop I guess.

      • SatanicPanic

        That’s why we always have to be adapting and trying new things. Don’t show up with last year’s giant puppets!

      • BaronvonRaschke

        It is about the path of least resistance and the squeaky wheel getting the grease. If a lot of people protest, the least resistance is to heed their call. Members want to be reelected. The only thing more important is to remain “conventional” to make sure you don’t lose your lucrative post-Congress sinecure. Liz Warren and Bernie will never get such a lucrative gig.

    • McAllen

      You can get protesters to show up to anything.

      I’m not sure this is true, at least not for large, sustained protests. There weren’t exactly a lot of pro AHCA/BCRA protestors.

      • djw

        Yeah, while I think Murc’s puzzlement here is reasonable, part of the answer is that simply isn’t true. There have been plenty of times sizeable groups of politicians would have appreciated large, sustained protests for or against a particular course of action, but efforts to motivate them did not succeed.

        Part of the answer is probably that their materialization is seen (perhaps even accurately) as a proxy for intensity of opinion. As long as not everyone votes, intensity matters alongside the baseline numbers.

        • so-in-so

          Right, few constituents write/email/call their reps, fewer still try to contact them in person and fewer STILL turn out to protest. A large group in front of the office is an “oh shit” moment, how many more agree with them but fall into the “won’t do jack except vote for somebody else when the time comes”.

      • Murc

        I’m not sure this is true, at least not for large, sustained protests. There weren’t exactly a lot of pro AHCA/BCRA protestors.

        My complete gut reaction is that it is harder to get pro than it is to get anti, maybe?

        Like, my understanding is that when the ACA was being debated, most of the protest action, both legitimate and astroturn, was against. Indeed, this was part of the reason the ACA made it in only by the skin of its teeth.

        Likewise now, there was a major groundswell of protest against AHCA/BCRA, which are dramatically less popular than the ACA was. And that’s great and all, but I can’t help but think “the ACA is no different now than it was eight years ago. Where were these giant mobs then?”

        Like I said, gut feeling that “anti” usually drums up more people willing to take to the streets than pro. The Iraw War protesters weren’t so much pro-peace as they were anti-war. Occupy Wall Street wasn’t so much pro-socialism, it was anti-the guys who imploded the academy.

        • kvs

          There were significant demonstrations in favor of ACA passage. But the key difference between pro- and opposition demonstrations is the audience.

          Pro- assumes you have a majority ready to act. So the demonstrations are frequently aimed at local media and focused on showing constituent support for their electeds. They can also afford to be smaller scale and narrowcast while achieving their effect. Both because local media are willing to turn up for smaller crowds and electeds are moved by smaller numbers of constituents compared to the genpop. All of that reduces national visibility of the efforts even if it doesn’t reduce its effectiveness. That being said, there were several national rallies put on by HCAN and allied groups.

          Opposition assumes you are the minority, need to build a groundswell, and drive national coverage. That means more visibility and seeking out the way to get the widest broadcast for the message.

    • sam

      If it was *just* the dozen or 20 people occupying someones office, I’d say, sure, it’s not really understandable why those “handful” of people can sway things. But its those visually impactful folks PLUS the thousands of constituent calls (I just read in another post, BTW, that something like over 85% of the calls against repeal were from women, so that should also say something about who is doing the organizing/activism here).

      The ADAPT folks weren’t the only thing, but they were a key component of a multi-pronged protest. Calls by themselves could have been written off as just astroturf. 20 activists by themselves could have been written off as not representative. but together they built on each other.

      • SatanicPanic

        I’ve said it before I’ll say it again, the women who are leading and sustaining the resistance are heroes. Us men need to take a back seat this time and let them show us how it’s done

  • twbb

    People who think protests never works are just as bad as people who thinks protests always work.

    • Lost Left Coaster

      Indeed. It is evenly balanced, as all things are.

    • Dennis Orphen

      Orphen’s Theorum: The effectiveness of direct action is inversely correlated to the amount of commuter traffic it disrupts.

    • Hogan

      The people! United! Can never be ignited!

      • Deborah Bender

        The people! United!
        Will sometimes win and sometimes lose!

        • DocAmazing

          The airline! United! Will have you all de-seated!

      • wjts

        Sit down, Reg.

        • Veleda_k

          Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably Priced Love, and a Hard-Boiled Egg!

      • Veleda_k

        The traditional slogan bugs me so much only because I feel like it really should rhyme and it just doesn’t at all.

        • DocAmazing

          It does in Spanish. “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” sounds better.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    I saw on interview on Democracy Now! yesterday with one of the activists from ADAPT who was arrested protesting at Senator Gardner’s office. Trust me, they are not going to let the voters of Colorado forget his vote on this.

  • Kevin

    Are there many in this community that are against protest? I…didn’t notice that in all the cheering this year about protests like the Womans March, I’ve not seen anyone here say anything bad about things like the Moral Monday protests in NC, or various others.

    Maybe i missed that, but it seems a strawman.

    Also…how is being against protest a self parody against liberals? The left is where protests usually happen (see: Fuck, how many examples do you want), so this whole section is rather bizarre and very Chait whining about Liberals and campus speech like to me…

    • Lost Left Coaster

      There are a few. Probably will show up. But I’m guessing the majority of LGMers agree with Erik on this.

      • Kevin

        That’s what i thought. I’m sure there are a small minority, but this doesn’t seem like a widespread view on this blog, so his mocking and contempt for this group seems outsized…again, like Chait and his “campus free speech blah blah blah” stuff.

        • humanoidpanda

          I think Erik is doing a bit of strawmanning here. Almost no one here thinks protests are bad, but there are plenty of people who think that protests can be counter-productive, or don’t like people who think that protests is the ONLY form of politics devoid of neoliberal perfidy.

          • djw

            I think Erik is doing a bit of strawmanning here.

            LeeEsq is working hard to prove you wrong below.

          • Lost Left Coaster

            “don’t like people who think that protests is the ONLY form of politics devoid of neoliberal perfidy.”

            Okay, talk about your strawmanning…

          • efgoldman

            Almost no one here thinks protests are bad

            We get to see a certain numbers of “yer doing it rong” criticism of the manner of protests, especially Black Lives Matter.
            I’m old enough to remember when a lot of people said that about freedom riders and marches in the South.

    • joel_hanes

      There has been considerable retro-criticism of Occupy for ineffectiveness.
      I think that criticism has been justified, and that exploring the differences that make the ADAPT protests effective and Occupy not so effective is a useful exercise.

      My take : single-issue focus and moral authority both important

      • Occupy worked in one way: it pushed the “1%” notion into the political dialogue.

        it then dissolved into a parody of leftist activism.

        • Kevin

          Very true, even today that framing is here and effective. But it did quickly devolve into a parody, where right wingers could mock it as weed smoking hacky sack playing hippies in drum circles.

          • twbb

            As someone who went to the original OWS, the parody is unfortunately not that far off.

        • Occupy had tremendous value in a few ways, other than what you mention. One is that it served as a training ground for a cadre of activists that are involved in all sorts of movements now. Two, and the most important, is that it pretty much killed the fetish for consensus governance on the left.

          • it pretty much killed the fetish for consensus governance on the left

            is there any evidence that more than, say, 20% of “the left” has any idea what “consensus governance” means ?

          • Deborah Bender

            Heh. I didn’t know about #2. Consensus process has strengths and weaknesses, and fetishizing it is a bad idea.

            I have had some experience with modified consensus governance in a small organization that is selective about who can join. It doesn’t as an
            organization engage in direct action (although some of its members do).
            It has a corporate structure with bylaws and an elected board (that’s one of the modifications from pure consensus; contested officer elections are decided by majority vote.) Most policy decisions are made by strict consensus at an annual membership meeting with a high participation requirement for quorum. There are regional chapters; they are required to operate similarly to the national organization.

            I’ve been involved with this organization since it was founded in 1975. It has frequent governance problems but no worse, I think, than if it ran on majority rule, and none of the problems have blown it up or sunk it. That is partly because it doesn’t have to make many decisions quickly and partly because there is gatekeeping at the admission process, so that new members have some commonality with the older members.

          • BaronvonRaschke

            Tell them brother. Also don’t forget that it was WH coordinated action with local cops that killed OWS. I saw it first hand in DC and represented some of those arrested. It made me more involved in the VA Dem party and a follower of Bernie. The Clintonites are a dead end and represent a shameful corporatist legacy. They have to go.

            • Veleda_k

              The Clintonites are a dead end and represent a shameful corporatist legacy. They have to go.

              Oh, good. I was just thinking this post had been too on topic.

              • BaronvonRaschke

                Do you somehow doubt this about the Clintons and Obama? If so, then denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

        • BaronvonRaschke

          Somewhat true. Never forget, however, that Obama and the Democrats used coordinated action with the local cops to kill OWS. It lacked organization and staying power, but it had a lot of opposition to overcome too. IOW, it was hardly the right wing that killed OWS. It was our alabaster saint of a president and the neoliberal Dems.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        Occupy got some things done. They did a lot to push inequality into the national conversation. They didn’t hit all their goals, and a lot of their methods were clumsy and can hopefully serve as a good lesson on more effective organizing strategies. But I don’t want to see it go down in history as a failure — like so many social movements, the results were very mixed.

        • sam

          Another thing Occupy did, that didn’t get as much attention as the protests, was the mass assistance they provided after Hurricane Sandy. The Red Cross was notoriously ineffective, and Occupy went in and actually got shit done.

          It didn’t generate a ton of headlines outside of local press, but I have a neighborhood acquaintance who can best be described as…”set-in-his-ways-libertarian ex hedge fund guy who hangs out at my local coffee shop”, and he also went out to do some cleanup – HE was the one who came back and actually tracked me down specifically because he really needed to tell me “can you believe that *I, of all people* am singing the praises of Occupy?”

          So, you know…they may not have changed the world, but they changed Ed’s mind. And that’s a damn miracle.

      • Origami Isopod

        For what it was — a bunch of angry young people with few to no elders to give them advice — Occupy was a resounding success. They got inequality back into the national political vocabulary, they were the gateway to activism for a lot of people, and, as Sam says, they had some impressive but less-publicized offshoots like Occupy Sandy.

    • Philip

      The women’s march wasn’t direct action. Shutting down senators’ offices, blocking roads with die ins, etc are direct action. Whatever your opinion of its *effectiveness*, a black bloc is direct action. A lot of liberals are ok with marches, but are uncomfortable with more disruptive direct action.

      • Kevin

        Black bloc / anarchist protests I will say I”m against, as it’s great fodder for the right. Direct action as in sit ins at the capitol, very much in favor of. Those two are as different as marches and direct action are. Call me squish for not being a fan of guys in skull masks breaking windows for the revolution if you want.

        • DocAmazing

          In a somehat related vein, what’s your stand on punching Nazis?

          • Kevin

            As a weak man, not something I’m going to do, but if you want to take a run at Spencer, I’ll cheer you on. Although I think the alt-right white supremacists and antifa black bloc groups kind of like the fighting more than the cause, they like the chaos. So fuck ’em all. (but fuck the nazis way more)

            • humanoidpanda

              Punching Nazis one thing. Reasoning that since Nazism is the radical form of fascism and fascism is the radical form of capitalism, and capitalism is based on private property, so therefore we ought to smash some windows, is stupid and counterproductive.

              • Philip

                I don’t think many black blocers see it that way (though it depends on the individuals involved and on the context). It’s often much more tactical, e.g. “make sure hosting Yiannopolis extremely difficult and costly, so people will be more hesitant to give him a platform.” It can also be an attempt to draw police attention away from more vulnerable groups (black blocs are, by their nature, generally somewhat apart from the rest of a protest). You always get hotheads and douchebags who just want to smash shit, but like with any other large and amorphous group, it’s complicated.

          • BaronvonRaschke

            In favor. (Lol)

        • Philip

          I’m not arguing for or against, I’m just saying that “direct action” means a specific thing, and marches like the women’s march aren’t that. And a lot of liberals IME are genuinely uncomfortable even with pretty tame direct action.

          • DAS

            IMHO direct action works best when it is directly related to the cause being promoted. You want to integrate lunch counters? Have racially mixed crowds sit down together at lunch counters. You want to block a Senator from passing a bill to deny health coverage; you physically block the Senator’s office. Also, the people “hurt” by your actions need to be the “bad guys” and not potential allies.

        • Deborah Bender

          Breaking windows for the revolution turned me off in 1970 and I haven’t changed my mind.

    • Hogan

      It’s more people who aren’t against protest in theory, but will nitpick any actually existing protest for not doing it right (message is offputting, you’re blocking traffic, $15 doesn’t make sense in North Dakota, I saw it on CNN and it was just a bunch of hippie freaks, can’t you keep those Palestinian activists out?, etc.).

      • DAS

        I resemble your remark. My big beef are protests that block traffic and hurt working class people on buses stuck in traffic but don’t inconvenience upper class folks in any way.

        • Veleda_k

          Do upper class people not use use cars?

          • Lost Left Coaster

            They use teleporters. And helicopters.

          • DAS

            Yes. But they tend to live in upper class neighborhoods and hence take different routes to work than working class folks do. Also a car can more easily navigate around a protest than a bus, which has to make specific stops, can.

            • Veleda_k

              Okay, but taking some different roads (and if you’re downtown, there will be roads everyone needs) and navigating more easily is different “don’t inconvenience upper class folks in any way.”

              • DAS

                OK so I overstated my case. But an upper class person being a couple minutes later to meet his/her spouse for dinner isn’t nearly as much of a problem as a lower class person whose bus is delayed, causing a missed bus transfer and hence said lower class person is an hour late to work/get kid from daycare, resulting in missed work hours or a huge fee, which the working class person can’t afford.

        • Adam Short

          I think a good rule for direct action is you should try really hard not to create collateral disruption. If you create disruption it should as much as possible be the entire point of what you’re doing, not an associated cost of what you’re doing.

          So, like, a lunch counter sit-in is a good example because the whole point of it is to inconvenience people who want to eat at the lunch counter. If also block the road in front of the lunch counter, that’s not good.

      • addicted4444

        I will cop to being against OWS. In my defense I wasnt initially against it but turned against when they made it clear that were fundamentally against any organizing and wanted to basically be anarchist.

        I’m still not sure if my approach was appropriate or not.

    • addicted4444

      I don’t know about the LGM community but it’s true of the broader American liberal community. No one is directly against it but often they say the protests should have been done differently.

      The most obvious recent example to me was the BLM protest at the Sanders rally that had a person in the crowd say they were for BLM until the protests.

      • Not sure that’s a good example. A “person in the crowd” at a Sanders rally isn’t likely to be some sort of squishy moderate liberal. What they *are* likely to be is a hard-leftist who dislikes being reminded that the Class War *isn’t* the Only War.

        (ETA: In other words, it wasn’t the fact of protesting they objected to – it was BLM’s *message* – because it’s not class-based.)

  • Philip

    Amen.

  • DAS

    How did these protests help? They didn’t receive much news coverage that I saw. Had they gotten news coverage, it would have been really big because voting to deny “those poor souls” medical care wouldn’t poll well with anyone outside of GOP primary voters. But I didn’t see that coverage.

    IMHO, what really made the difference were tge protests at town halls. Fortunately for us the media covered it as “look out how many people love the ACA and how unpopular repealing it would be” rather than “outside agitators are harassing GOP politicians trying to do the business real ‘Murkins put them in office to do”. I think those protests made the GOoPs realize what an impossible position they were in: either vote for ACA repeal and be attacked for taking away people’s health care or vote against it and lose the primary.

  • LeeEsq

    How did protest work in this particular case? The Republican party proceeded with their Tax Cut masquerading as Health Care bill even though it was clearly unpopular with the voters because of the constant protests. Last night’s bill was nearly party line with three exceptions. We have no idea whether or not those exceptions were influenced by protest. Since protest did not really get the Republicans to back down and did not seemingly change any Republican vote, you really can’t say that it worked in this particular case.

    • djw

      Well, but we have to also look at the role it may have played about freaking people out about the other versions of the bill (that McCain did support), forcing them to go with the “punt to the house and hope for the best” McCain didn’t like. Also, the protests–highlighting the horrors of the kinds of bills they wanted to pass–were probably part of why going through a normal process seemed politically impossible; on the fear that the sustained pressure to not kill your constituents would peel off support as the process played out.

      • LeeEsq

        This is arguably true but effective protests are ones that get politicians to act in the way the protestors want and enact policies the protestors want. Making a good moral show might be nice but it is ultimately useless without political results. The Republicans stayed the course regardless of the protests. Effective protests would have gotten the Republicans to give up sooner.

        • djw

          and enact policies the protestors want.

          I don’t understand this alleged limiting rule at all. If the political elite proposed an idiotic, costly war, and mass protests against the war led them to abandon the plan, would anyone say that doesn’t count as an effective protest because it was influence against a particular course rather than for one? Of course not. This “only for, not against, counts as effective protest” is arbitrary and nonsensical, and doesn’t fit with ordinary language discussions about effectiveness.

        • Lost Left Coaster

          How do you know that the Republicans wouldn’t have held out longer without the protests? I mean, what do you mean “give up sooner” — what, exactly, would have been soon enough to prove that the protests had worked?

          I acknowledge that we’re left with a lot of question marks here. But don’t lose sight of just how shocking it really is that the Republicans have still been unable to replace the ACA. They should have had this one in the bag from Day 1 — they control the goddamn government. Popular rebellion against their terrible policies have been expressed in many different ways, but protests and constituent calls have helped to keep them on the hot seat. Also, I bet a lot more would have voted no but McCain gave them cover in the end.

          • LeeEsq

            We don’t know anything about how effective these protests were.

            • Lost Left Coaster

              The bill failed. That doesn’t prove the protests worked. But it makes your position that they were entirely ineffective a bit…baffling.

              • LeeEsq

                The bill could have failed without any protests or it could have passed with protests. It was that close.

                • Lost Left Coaster

                  But that’s like saying that a baseball team’s pitching didn’t make any difference because they ended up winning in the 9th on a home run.

            • Deborah Bender

              No powerful group that changes its behavior because of protests ever admits it. Doing so would encourage more protests.

    • DAS

      In 2018 the only voters who will remember the votes of individual GOP pols are primary voters who want the ACA gone. All most general election voters care about is that the ACA is not gone. Even knowing how unpopular ACA repeal is, the best course of action for a GOoP is to vote for repeal (or come up with a reason why repeal is not right wing enough) but hope it fails.

      Having pressure to demonstrate how unpopular repealing it is ensures that at least 3 GOoPs are willing to take one for the team even if it means losing a primary (ETA also losing out on the wingnut welfare circuit … a GOoP would rather lose in the general and at least get wingnut welfare than lose in the primary)

      • DocAmazing

        In 2018 the only voters who will remember the votes of individual GOP pols are primary voters who want the ACA gone

        …unless the Democratic Party does its job and reminds vulnerable voters that they nearly lost their access to care.

        • DAS

          Why would any voter who isn’t already 100% committed to voting (for whichever party) believe whatever any of the parties say? At best “swing” voters are listening to the mainstream media, which is happy to ape GOP talking points most of the time.

          • Geo X

            You’re right; there’s no point in anyone ever saying anything because no one will ever believe it.

            • DAS

              I think we need to figure out why the media wasn’t so bad in covering the protests at town halls and to replicate that.

              The GOP wins not just based on the messaging from the party itself but because “even the liberal media” oftentimes disseminates GOP talking points. The reach of party messaging only goes so far. The issue is getting on message Democrats on media outlets and also making sure media coverage isn’t so biased.

              • Deborah Bender

                “I think we need to figure out why the media wasn’t so bad in covering the protests at town halls and to replicate that.”

                Because the protestors were following the Indivisible playbook?

                The Indivisible manual was written by former Congressional staffers who had observed their bosses’ reactions to different kinds of pressure, and were in a position to give real-world guidance on what works and what is counterproductive or just a waste of time.

      • djw

        In 2018 the only voters who will remember the votes of individual GOP pols are primary voters who want the ACA gone.

        I know “ignore all precedent if it gets in the way of my catastrophizing” is a thing, but the ACA probably cost the Democrats around ~10-15 seats, and it was considerably less unpopular than the crap the Republicans were selling.

    • petesh

      Protest shored up the Democratic caucus.

      • LeeEsq

        That is certainly probable and plausible. They might not have moved any Republican but they helped the Democratic caucus rally around the ACA and against the Republicans.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        I think that this really has been one of the key purposes of protest in the Trump era. To let the Democratic Party know that we expect nothing less than unity and steadfast resistance. Notice how few Democrats are out there cutting deals or really cooperating in any way. They deserve credit, but they are under a lot of pressure.

    • kvs

      The skinny repeal amendment was the last of 3 options voted down. The other 2 failed by wider margins. The only way they even closed that margin was getting rid of the Medicaid cuts which were the main focus of the ADAPT protests.

      I think it’s pretty clear the protests were successful in keeping opposition visible in the news and providing a narrative framework for journalists to cover that wasn’t just about political capital.

  • before you go passing laurels out to anyone, don’t let your guard down. graham (mccain’s old running buddy) met with dump today to discuss this.
    http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/344348-graham-trump-discuss-alternate-obamacare-repeal-bill

  • Scott Mc

    I guess protest can work, and maybe it was instrumental here, though it’s hard to tell. While i think the BLM movement has much to protest about and SHOULD be protesting, I wonder at times if it didn’t result in some amount of backlash that got us president dump.

    • sanjait

      Backlash, plausibly yes. That’s potentially important.

      Though it should be noted that even if that’s right, that’s only a tiny piece of the big picture of why we now have a Trump.

  • Adam Short

    This commentariat is pretty pro-protest. I wouldn’t be here otherwise! I quit quite a few communities during Occupy as nice liberals openly cheered the gassing of protesters, calling them “idiots,” etc. I couldn’t take it.

    People who don’t protest/organize will always kvetch about it – obviously they have to have some framework in which to justify the fact that they aren’t doing the work. If they think it works, and they aren’t doing anything about it, that would threaten their identity.

    You can’t worry too much about it. People are the way they are.

    • sanjait

      You don’t think it’s worth worrying about the possibility that the protests turn off more voters than they turn on?

      My recollection of OWS protesters is that they at first seemed purposeful, and then seemed to become a group of people camping and shitting in the public park that noticeably lacked any discernible agenda. And that’s from someone inclined to agree with them on a great many things.

      I think they hurt their own cause, but probably never considered that possibility because self righteousness is addictive. As long as we are generalizing about the way people are…

      • Erik Loomis

        No. I don’t think that’s a concern at all. If voters don’t like the protests enough to be turned off on an issue, they probably would have been turned off anyway. I could not care less about this issue.

        • sanjait

          Well, I think that’s a bit of wishful thinking then.

          Because there’s nothing at all that guarantees the attention protesters draw to their cause will end up net positive for the cause.

          Right or wrong, observers are going to associate the cause with their perception of the protesters. And if a protest turns off more than it turns on, it hurts the cause, no matter how self-righteous it feels.

          IIRC you are in Eugene, Oregon, and you probably remember how popular opinion turned pretty sour on Occupy protesters there, as it did across the country. Favorability polls nationally reflected this, when the movement initially was well liked but two months in become strongly net unfavorable.

          My anecdotal recollection is that the popular reporting and opinion of protesters in Eugene quickly became a caricature, of hooded anarchists shitting in the park, for which taxpayers would have to pay to clean up.

          *That caricature became the representative of the cause.* That was particularly irritating for me, as someone who felt and still feels very strongly about how the financial sector should be regulated more aggressively and robustly, to have that caricature become the face of *my cause.*

          Anyone who organizes for change rather than self-gratification should care about this issue.

          • Aaron Morrow

            While popular opinion may have turned against the protesters, popular opinion on the issues of income and wealth inequality turned towards their issues. More and more people were talking more about economic inequality than they had before.

            The long term effect of protesting bringing an issue to the forefront has to be included in the analysis of a particular protest.

            • sanjait

              It certainly is worth noting. Maybe that’s worth it, to elevate an issue, even if your movement ends up disliked.

              I’m not saying it’s never worth it, but rather, it’s treacherous to assume that a disruptive protest movement can’t cause more harm than good. That’s basically saying “any publicity is good publicity,” which is a terrible assumption.

              My working theory is that these things have a lifespan. Drawing attention likely does help big at first, for the reasons you mention, but then the public sours on disruptive action.

              If that’s the case, the ideal might be a disruptive protest movement that finds a way to shift gears once it grabs the spotlight. Articulate specific plausible demands. Stop breaking stuff. Build alliances. Make the fight into something that has a discernible winning endgame.

              Of course, you go to war with the army you have. I’m not trying to blithely act like organizing is easy and that once organized a group can easily shift gears. Just creating any movement in the first place is something big. Maybe disrupting for awareness, and becoming widely disliked in the process, is ultimately a worthwhile effort.

              But either way, good strategy requires looking clearly at the consequences and trade offs of every action without deluding oneself.

          • Hogan

            IIRC you are in Eugene, Oregon

            Yeah, no.

            • sanjait

              Ok then.

          • Adam Short

            I think that you and I are working with different models on what influences people to vote, and how. Which is fine! But short answer, no, I do not worry that protests might “turn people off.” I don’t think it really works like that.

  • applecor

    When FDR said to A. Philip Randolph, “make me do it” (later echoed by Obama in a different context), I always thought he meant protests.

  • Protest is a tool, one of the few tools available to ordinary folks that can have an impact on the political process. As we know, the pressures on politicians to do the wrong thing are intense, persistent, and very well-funded. Even those with good intentions can end up swaying in the face of those pressures unless people can mobilised to exert opposing pressure on them. It doesn’t always do the trick but it lets them know that the issue does matter greatly to at least some of their constituents. Protests also bring issues to the attention of the public and keep them there.

    • efgoldman

      the pressures on politicians to do the wrong thing are intense, persistent, and very well-funded.

      Their prime directive and number one job, though, is re-election.

  • sanjait

    In this case I bet Loomis is right. Having sick people in wheelchairs get dragged away probably drew attention to the issue and sympathy for the cause, which increased public pressure.

    But that doesn’t mean direct action protest will always advance a cause as a general rule. Protests will almost always draw attention but not always sympathy. They can activate opposition as well as support to a cause.

    My suspicion is that OWS and BLM both started out as positives but eventually became negatives for their own causes. Can’t prove it, it’s just what i suspect based on intuition.

    I am not saying people *should* judge a cause poorly just because someone somewhere is protesting in a way that seems offputting. But I am saying many people unthinkingly react that way, deciding if they favor or oppose a cause based on their quick impression of its proponents.

    • sanjait

      By contrast I think the recent Women’s March was a big success. Even though many commentators concerned trolled about the nature of protest with an argument that might superficially sound like mine above, the question is whether the preponderance of effect was positive or negative. My impression is that many people were activated by that protest, seeing that others were broadly opposed to Trumpism, and inspired by that to get involved.

  • Veleda_k

    I think one major function of protest is that it keeps people energized, and they’re places where people can learn about other ways to effect change. And that’s really valuable.

    • sanjait

      The mere act of participating and seeing others with similar concern reinforces peoples’ belief and makes them more likely to continue staying involved. And some people even make friends.

  • Deborah Bender

    The lunch counter sit-in is similar to the kind of direct action that is immediate–preventing or impeding the authorities or the private interest from carrying out some action right then and there. The example that made a powerful impression on me (because I was a teenager) was students in Sproul Plaza surrounding a police car that had just arrested a student for distributing political leaflets, and Mario Savio climbing on top of the cop car with a bullhorn and giving a speech which became famous. The students nonviolently immobilized the police car for more than 24 hours.

    This kind of direct action–stopping sheriff’s deputies from carrying out evictions during the Depression, physically protecting trees from loggers, workers taking over the plant–is radical and always controversial. It’s only good as a delaying tactic; it has to be backed up with legal, political or economic resistance.

  • Origami Isopod

    The real heroes of last night’s vote are not John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, or Susan Collins. They aren’t the 48 Democratic senators either. The real heroes are the direct action protestors in ADAPT that demonstrated tremendous courage in going to the offices of senators and putting their often broken bodies between those senators and ACA repeal.

    Sing it.

  • Thanks for saying this here, Erik. It’s so true.

  • BeatnikBob

    “…not to mention big donors like Adelson, Koch, Spencer, and Wynn.”

    Don’t forget Donald and Bannon’s sugar momma/daddy…

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