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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Rally ‘Round The Flag, Boys–Marches, The Need For Purpose, Camaraderie, And Belonging

There seems to be a march every weekend in Washington; and the Women’s March, the March for Science, the Climate March are just a few. 

The marches all have a stated purpose – demand for women’s rights, more objectivity and less politics in scientific research, and immediate action on climate change – and while they may be well intentioned, their objectives are far too vague and diffuse to have any impact on policy.

The Women’s March, was a potpourri of progressive demands.  Every issue from equal pay to abortion rights, to sexual abuse, male patriarchy, transgender acceptance, and the capitalist system which is fundamentally oligarchic and oppressive to women was represented on the Mall. 

Image result for images womens march on washington

Political activists of the Sixties know that while they support populist demands for equal access and civil rights, such inchoate marches have more to do with self-image, a show of collective solidarity, and a genial camaraderie than any real, concerted and coordinated effort to affect governance.

The ‘68 March on Washington had one and only one purpose – civil rights.  It was the most defining, momentous, and significant event of the movement which had begun with Rosa Parks, sit-ins, and the signing of the Civil Rights Act.  No one could ignore the plight of black Americans after Martin Luther King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial.

Image result for images mlk I have a dream speech

Anti-Vietnam War protesters brought the war to Washington, and Nixon was bedeviled.  Although he stubbornly hardened his stance, dismissed the protesters as renegade, anti-Americans, he paid attention; and most observers have concluded that the demonstrations, marches, and protests helped to end the war if only indirectly.

Word of the protests reached the troops on the ground whose morale, never good, further deteriorated when they realized that the country was not behind their bloody effort.  Most grunts knew that the press releases published by the Army were idealistic, fabricated, devious attempts to keep resources flowing; and Ho Chi Minh and General Giap knew exactly how to capitalize on this demoralization.  The Tet Offensive while a questionable military victory, was clearly a victorious political one.

Image result for images vietnam war wounded soldiers

The leaders of both the civil rights and anti-war protests understood their power.  They had specific objectives – both direct and indirect – in mind, and never wavered from them.

Of course demographics played a significant role in the success of demonstrations in the Sixties.  The post-war population bulge was at its greatest during the decades – there were more 18-25 year olds in the country than any time in history.  Youthful idealism, strength in numbers, and just causes combined to produce a self-appointed cadre of political street activists.

Image result for time magazine cover 1968 youth under 25

Perhaps most importantly, the Baby Boomer generation, raised in post-war plenty and according to the permissive principles of Dr. Spock, had been inadvertently encouraged to react against the social and political conservatism of their parents.  This generation was brought up to feel entitled and independent.  Little did Mom and Dad realize what they were doing.

None of these enabling factors exist today.  There is no generational solidarity, no common cause, no unified purpose.

Of course young people are as progressive and idealistic as they always have been; but decades of liberal identity politics of diversity and inclusivity have made true political cohesion impossible.  What might have been a powerful alliance of white liberals and black activists was never meant to be.  Black identity, legitimacy, and solidarity was exclusive, not inclusive.

While most young people embrace the liberal environmental agenda and are in lockstep concerning the survival of the planet, they are neither politically savvy enough to focus their protests nor united in cause to have any impact.  The environmental movement has long been so divided among sub-causes – global warming, industrial pollution, deforestation, coal-fracking-nuclear energy, and species protection – that overall impact has been lost.

Image result for image spotted owl environmentalist

Real activism requires both political and philosophical commitment and savvy lobbying.  In the case of environmentalism, the desks of Congressional Representatives are piled high with requests and demands from hundreds of cause-specific groups.  Environmental fatigue sets in, and the pile is simply moved.

Current causes have no immediacy.  There are no thousands of coffins of dead American soldiers arriving at Andrews Air Force Base.  No black people being beaten or attacked by dogs.  Global warming is remote, distant, and by no means the Armageddon envisaged by some.  For the time being, it means less brutal winters in Minnesota, a longer growing season and lower farm prices, and easy sailing through the Arctic Passage.

Image result for images 60s civil rights south dogs

Women have never been more successful, now outnumbering men in law and medical school, increasing in numbers in media, academia, and industry.  Although feminists still insist on protecting women from the depredation of men, most women are strong, confident, and quite able to take care of themselves.

The election of Donald Trump has given common cause to progressives – perhaps the unifying enemy they have hoped for. In the electoral campaign they vilified him as homophobic, misogynist, racist, and xenophobic – all vague, passionately-felt, impossible to validate, but too melodramatic for any real resonance.  Now they go after his tax returns, his coziness with Russia, his supposed dismemberment of the social safety net, and his persistent oligarchical bent.  All to little or no avail.  The White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court are no solidly conservative. 

Image result for images donald trump

A friend who was an organizer of one of the Washington marchers when asked what he hoped to accomplish, said, “Media coverage”.  The more the public is exposed to progressive principles, the greater the chance for progressive reform.

Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth.  Progressives who see televised images of Washington marchers will feel even more solidarity and commitment.  Conservatives, on the other hand, will only be hardened in their opposition to what they see as liberal cant and interventionism.  The images of marchers, random signs, and violent encounters will only drive them further from the causes marchers intend to promote.

So, what’s the point? Why march? Why bother?

The answer is in collective progressive solidarity.  It matters little whether protests and marches will have any impact.  The point is sharing in a common, philosophical, universal movement.

When the manifestos of progressive movements are parsed, disaggregated, and trimmed down to the basics, anti-capitalism will be found at the foundation.  There would be no environmental or civil rights issues if national government were more liberal, more attuned to social justice and equality, and more inclusive.  It is capitalist acquisitiveness and greed behind the oppression of minorities and women; at the root of environmental destruction; and the very cause of the decline of a once great nation.

Protesters then can indeed march under one flag – anti-capitalism.  All sectorial and identity differences can be forgotten or at worst subsumed under this one banner.  While perhaps not singing the Internationale, marchers can express moral rectitude, social justice, and personal pride.

Image result for socialist marches europe

This all accords marchers a certain generosity.  They are serious about their causes if undirected and vague.  Other observers have characterized marches as purely psycho-social phenomenon, feel-good enterprises of community, belonging, and personal purpose.

Whatever the motivation, marches have an unintended consequence – march fatigue.  Few members of Congress, let alone the White House or the rest of us, pay any attention to the doings on the Mall.  We are simply tired – let alone sick and tired – of the same old, same old. 

Everybody marches in America – Bay-to-Breakers, St. Patrick’s and Columbus Day, Fourth of July, and every possible combination and permutation of protest, patriotism, and pure fun.  This is a good thing.

Just don’t take them seriously.

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