Monday, December 5, 2011

Think Local. Drink Local. Protest Local?

I like the phrase “all politics is local.” The things that are most important are the things that are closest to you. Incidentally, those are often things you know the most about and have the most power to influence. That’s why I spent a semester as an editor begging UW-Madison students to stop writing about Israel-Palestine and another year on an editorial board sounding off on things like the what to name the new union and the University muscling Brothers Bar and Grill off its corner. Being able to recognize issues you want to influence is only half the battle – you have to know whom to lobby to make your voice heard.

That’s why campus newspapers should write editorials aimed at chancellors and not presidents. And that’s why I cringed when I picked up my paper last week.

I’m all for students’ rights and peace land and bread and saving Darfur*. However, the recent Ann Arbor rally in support of the UC-Davis students struck a chord with me not because of the cause, but because the organizers didn’t understand the importance of staying local.

* Wait, I’m two years late on the Darfur thing? And peace land and bread was the slogan during the Russian Revolution? Well comb my mustache and call me Trotsky – I guess I need to get out more.

In what can best be described as a vigil in favor of a rally mimicking a protest* last Tuesday night, students gathered on campus to show solidarity with #Occupy** protestors at UC-Davis who where pepper sprayed by campus police. The Ann Arbor vigil was reportedly also protesting an incident at UC-Berkeley which is just bizarre considering that it took place two years ago, back when people still cared about Darfur.

*Got that?
**Is the hashtag part of the title? I don’t know, but I’m going with yes – it will cause nightmares for librarians trying to alphabetize it.

The problem here isn’t the what or the why of the vigil. The problem is the where. How many UC-Davis campus officials walk through the Diag? Was there some demand on the UM administration? Don’t pepper spray me bro?

Protests are simple. Good protests are not. You need to find an issue, craft a position, and then make that position known to the appropriate people. And that third point is a really important one that the Tuesday vigil seems to have missed the boat on.

In general, protests in favor of other protests are a tricky thing. Nevertheless, they can be done. Also last week, a group of students identified a problem (the extensive power of the Egyptian military in civil matters), crafted a position (the U.S. government should stop supporting them), and rallied to influence stakeholders (U.S. voters). Rather than calling for a decrease in the power of the Egyptian military, they stayed local and demanded something their audience could (at least theoretically) deliver – a change is U.S. policy. It may not be exactly what Sam Clegg meant when he would mutter “keep it local” to me through clenched teeth, but it’s a good start and it would have been a good model for the occupy vigil to follow. Alternatively a better way to show solidarity with the #Occupy movement would have been to just join the actual Occupy Ann Arbor camp a few blocks down Liberty Street. Or, student could have bought plane tickets, flown to Davis, and made it clear that Michigan stands with the UC students there. But that would have been kind of a 1% move, don’t you think?

1 comment:

  1. Very good piece Joe. While I may be a bit biased due to the fact my blood pressure skyrockets anytime I see another pointless protest with no particular goals in mind except to protest for the sake of protest, I couldn't agree more with your position. It's very nice to see a little perspective from a UW-Madison grad, which frankly is hard to come by. Keep up the insightful, good work my friend.


Keep it civil.