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Dara Lind on the Varieties of Protest


This Dara Lind piece articulates a typology of protest that I found illuminating: protest with a specific demand, that will be at least partially satisfied when that demand is met versus protest aimed at delegitimizing a politician (or system).

This is the question that left dissenters need to ask themselves about Hillary Clinton, if they haven’t already: is there anything that Hillary Clinton can do to redeem herself to you?

If there isn’t, you can continue to protest her existence, but don’t be upset if she doesn’t respond — you wouldn’t accept a response if you got it.

If there is, figure out how you can make her do it — especially (if she is elected) in January. You won’t be alone. In fact, you might be surprised to see that some of the people who supported Clinton in 2016 are right alongside, waiting to remind her of what she owes.

I had never worked this out so clearly for myself before. It captures well a distinction that predicts what kind of protest I think is deplorable (chanting “lock her up” at the convention) and the kind of protest that’s smart (having signs that say “No TPP” at the convention). It also captures something I find frustrating in the rhetoric around Hillary Clinton: in some sectors, her favorable movement is never acknowledged. Overturning Citizens United was the only concrete policy proposal she made in her acceptance speech. If you want Citizens United overturned, you should give her a cookie; that’s how you shape politician’s behavior. I’m not saying anyone should cheer a campaign promise with all of their heart; no one should just believe anything Clinton (or any politician) says. They should continue to work to create the political conditions that ensure that she follows through. But it’s not very strategic to send the message that there’s no reward for any leftward motion she makes. Fortunately, I don’t think she’s getting that message overall.

There maybe needs to be a third category: in a sense, chanting “no more war” at the convention articulates one big demand, but in another it’s more an effort to challenge a narrative. I don’t think it belongs in the same category as “lock her up” (and I may be parting with Lind here). It rejects an interventionist military, and the nationalist theater of trotting out generals as evidence of strength and patriotism, but I don’t think it necessarily communicates that Clinton herself is illegitimate.

Edited to add: I think JL’s comments are worth highlighting in their entirety. A selection:

My observation is that some people will give politicians a cookie when they take steps in the right direction and some won’t, and that having a mix of such people can be useful – the politician gets some cookies and the pressure stays on. Whether it’s useful or not, it’s what’s likely to happen anyway, because some activists are good at framing things around partial victory and others aren’t. In general, different activists are going to fill different tactical, rhetorical, and other niches.

Sometimes you want to delegitimize a system – there are a lot of folks out there right now trying to delegitimize existing systems of policing, for instance, and there was a lot of work in past decades to delegitimize Jim Crow – but delegitimization is not particularly useful for, say, trying to get things into the Dem platform.

I agree that sometimes systems need to be delegitimized, and was reaching towards that at the end, but I don’t have this worked out for myself and I’ve decided that if I get a little bit less perfectionistic about blogging everything I’ll do more of it. I actually thought of writing about different kinds of policing protest in the post. I like this protest going on now at New York City Hall, even though I myself am just far too uncertain to either favor or disfavor anything as radical as police abolition. But I think the radical critique needs to be made. Even though I’m sure presence in the current occupying force is highly correlated with strong dislike of Hillary Clinton, a protest that critiques a system seems different, and much more useful then, the some of the highly personal delegitimizing discourse in some of the protest movement. But I’d appreciate any assistance in articulating the difference! Maybe JL already got there:

I strongly agree that “No more war” and “Lock her up” are not in the same category. I would say the former is both challenging a narrative and making a demand of the coalition that goes beyond Clinton.

When you make Clinton the face of the evils of the world, it fails to acknowledge that Clinton has to respond to a broad coalition, and it’s everyone’s job to make the coalition be more bold and more just.

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