Why the Teabaggers Are Such a Failure
Given what we are seeing with the little Teabaggers the Dog thought that today would be a good day to talk about effective protest and persuasion. There are many tools which we as activist can use. The critical thing is recognizing what works, when it works, why it works and choosing the ones which will achieve our goals most effectively. Today we have seen a failure of epic proportions which will do more damage to the Teabaggers causes (whatever the hell they are) than it will to advance them.
Cross Posted at Square State
Just like generals always prepare for the last war (where else are they going to get a template from?) activists tend to fight the last protest. Given the numbers Baby Boomers in the population, this tends to assume that mass marches are the way to go. The power of the people in the street is (with good reason) branded in their minds and seems to be the way to go. There is something to be said about this, as any democracy is effected by the collective will of the people but it suffers from a couple of problems in the 21st Century.
First off, when the massive marches on Washington to end the Vietnam War happened the country was significantly smaller. Back in 1970 we had a population of 203 million, today we have nearly 50% more. This factor alone makes it harder to get people into the streets in proportional number. The other factor is that those of the Dogs generation (he is either the very oldest of Gen X’ers or Gen Jones) and below are not the same cohesive cohort the Boomers were (which is not to say they were monolithic, by any means, but they came out the 50’s as kids and had more willingness to join a team or movement). One of the factors that did unite the Boomers, especially the men, was the very real chance of being drafted for this war.
So, while this was an effective tactic in the past it is much harder to get the level of commitment and the percentage of the population you need to effect change. It is not impossible as we saw with the pro-immigrant rallies in the summer of ’06. But what like the Vietnam rally’s they were narrow bore and had a single purpose in mind. That purpose was not actually to get comprehensive immigration reform, but rather to give the Democrats in Congress the back bone to avoid being railroaded by the reactionary Right. The massive show of support for rational immigration reform was all that was needed, and so this was effective.
This is not the case for the Teabagger protests. While they have managed to get enough protests in enough cities to be covered by the traditional media, they have failed in a couple of critical ways. First off, they do not have a cohesive message. It is very easy to get anti-government and anti-tax hard cores to come out on April 15th. But that is where the message cohesion ends. They are protesting for lower taxes, when most of the protesters are going to get that in 2010 anyway. Some are protesting feared Socialism (though the Dog has no freaking idea what they mean by that, nor apparently do they) some are demanding we protect the Constitution, though few seem to be able to reasonably articulate what parts of the Constitution need protection from this Administration. It hardly matters what they are protesting, the fact is they ask for no concrete action, as a group. Sure there are things many of them would like, but when you are trying to influence a Congress and a President, you have to be clear and show that the nation is behind you, this they failed at completely.
There are other aspects that make or break your credibility. If your whole movement is one group, like say white folks, which is going to make it seem less than it is. If your national movement only gets about 85K (as Red State is reporting) for an event that is supposed to be in every one of the 435 Congressional districts, you are not going to look like the seeds of change, you are going to look like the dead enders and sore losers. If your whole protest can be summed up by a sexual euphemism, then you are going to get laughed at, a lot.
The whole point of this is influencing politicians requires knowing your audience. Sure it can be (sometimes) impressive to see street protests, but if they are not big enough, clear enough and narrow bore enough in their demands they are just an outlet for the protesters anger. Being able to reach the politicians is what makes a difference.
This is a lesson we on the Left should take to heart. It is not the number of people that are most important, it is what your protest looks like, sounds like and the message you are projecting that matters. A protest that discredits the movement is worse than doing nothing. You have to keep in mind that you will not be able to control the spin of the press, so you have to give them nothing to make it easy to dismiss you.
The Dog knows there will be those who hate the idea that making change happen is so wrapped up with marketing, but this is the reality we live in. We must ask ourselves what we want more, a wild, fun out pouring of effort or the change we are advocating for? They are sometimes compatible, but we must recognize they are also sometimes incompatible. Today the Right learned that letting it all hang out, even with one of the major cable news networks shilling for you does not help you if what you show is the ugly underside of your movement. One thing that comes across clearly on TV is wild eyed crazy. This we got to see in spades today.
If you misuse a tool, it is likely to make what you are trying to achieve harder, not easier.
The floor is yours.