"We need louder bullhorns," said Dan Handelman, as a group of masked protestors acted out a dramatization of the history and effect of sanctions on Iraq for a handful of observers in Pioneer Square. Last Monday evening, in an effort to raise awareness about sanctions on Iraq, about 50 protestors gathered downtown. They broke no laws and warranted no police presence. Sponsored by Peace and Justice Works, the laid-back assembly was to commemorate the tenth anniversary of economic sanctions on Iraq.
"This is not really a protest," pointed out Handelman. "It's a visibility action to build awareness."
But, without the drama of storm trooper police firing tear gas, the event passed unnoticed by the media and passersby alike. Really, how much awareness was raised?
After the WTO protests and May Day riots, the central question emerging in today's social justice movement is, "What is the most effective way to get out your message?" Is window smashing truly the best way to rope in coveted media attention? Does the public really prefer concussion grenades to consciousness raising?
Peace and Justice Works kept last week's "gathering" peaceful and legal. The downside of such law-and-order was evident--the protest made barely a bleep on the local radar. The attendance of only 50 people was a stark contrast to May Day's thousand.
Avoiding civil disobedience resulted in an event about as interesting as a group of Japanese tourists. On the other hand, direct action protests can be as thrilling as Godzilla smashing buildings, often no one gets to know what the message is--even some of the participants. Think about how well the May Day melee highlighted police ineptitude and brutality; but how many of us know why a thousand people came together in the first place? Aren't we all sick of hearing, "I got arrested for a good cause last week," when the person can't even explain that cause? For some, activism is just a type of masturbation.
In contrast, the Iraq protest, according to Handelman "was a way to share information with each other." Good for them for knowing their stuff, but next time they might consider setting something on fire to bring the cameras in, and then explaining their cause well.