Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

The Failure of Mass Protests and the Political Right

I have written several times in the last few years about how the era of effective mass protests is over, how governmental and business power structures have become immune to them. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, such tactics were so new that they actually did change policy at times… but now, government has learned that such mass demonstrations do not easily translate into actual political power.  In fact, such protests are a good sign for those who hold power, because they provide a way for the opposition to feel that they have “done something” without actually doing anything that might affect policy.

In recent years, when I have written about this, it has almost always been accompanied by calls for those of us on the left side of the political spectrum to move away from mass protests and towards more creative or policy based efforts to effect change. After the largest global mass protest in human history failed in its objective in March of 2003, liberal movements have focused on policy, on engaging multi-media efforts, and recently on the most effective election campaign in recent history.

The results are there for all to see… this shift in how we seek to effect political and social change has been more effective than I ever thought it would, and more effective than even the most heady days of the mass protest movements of the 60’s and 70’s. The center of this country is shifting.

That being said, I’m concerned. I’m concerned because when the political left realized the ineffectiveness of mass protest movements in American politics, the methods that were available to them did not include the use of firearms. Even when activists on the left screamed about “Revolution!” at protests, I don’t think anyone dreamed that the modern day hippies had stockpiles of assault rifles at home. Even at their most violent, the level of “armed and dangerous” on the left tends not to rise above sticks and stones.

Yet when I hear talk of revolution at “mass” protests on the right (not all that mass, but okay), it is not hard for me to imagine that “armed and dangerous” has a more literal meaning. When I hear demagogues on the right warning of coming “concentration camps” and “re-education camps for youth”, I remember my own days walking on the right side of the American political line, and the weapons and training that many of those I walked with had.  I remember how we would have reacted to such talk from Fox News and from Conservative Talk Radio…

I probably spend more time talking with those who are in the radical right than many of my colleagues to the left of the political center. I do so when I’m in uniform, and I do so when I keep up with old friends from my own days watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh (before I “woke up” after Bosnia, and saw what that kind of hatred leads to). I also have friends who are liberal, but who live and work in more conservative circles, and we commiserate together. They are worried. I am concerned.

It comes down to this… when the left realized that mass protests do not work anymore, guns were not an option for them. Not true of the right.

Yours in faith,


2 Thoughts on “The Failure of Mass Protests and the Political Right

  1. Mass protests drove a President of the US (LBJ) out of office. As a former mass protester, I think we had a huge impact. The problem with being a successful revolutionary is it’s easy to destroy the old, but once gone, you don’t always have much control on what comes.

  2. Bill,

    You make my point for me, though you may not realize it. Mass Protests did drive LBJ out of office. They brought about an end to the Vietnam War. They brought about the passage of the Voting Rights Act and much of the reforms of the Civil Rights Movement.

    But those were 30-40 years ago. The tactic was still new. Government did not know what they meant, did not know what kind of power they might represent, and so did not know how to set up countervailing influences. Government did not know how to effectively portray the mass protestors in ways that denigrated what the protests were for.

    The thesis I am arguing for is that since the 1980’s, the American Government (and now world governments) have become increasingly immune to mass protests as a form of political pressure… till we reach the point today that from a policy perspective they are all but impotent. I actually think that mass protests now serve an opposite purpose… they provide an opportunity for the government to portray their opposition as “kooks and loonies”, while at the same time lessening motivation in that same opposition by allowing them to feel as if they’ve “done something”.

    You are right, the Mass Protests of the 60’s and 70’s were highly effective… but the tactic no longer works in any real way.

    Yours in Faith,


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