Suburban protestors fail fact tests

By Lawrence Bailey

Armed with placards, slogans and unread copies of No Logo, suburban North America is going to bring that big bad corporate machine to a grinding halt. Legions of disaffected, idle youths have found the root of all evil and are assembling to descend upon it. They will free the overworked masses and exploited children the world over. The profit-mongering American corporations may be on top but their time has passed. In Seattle, in Washington D.C., the masses spoke. One problem: there is nothing to be heard.  

The sound emerging is nothing but a cacophony of chants and complaints over a backbeat of marching feet and breaking glass. The causes championed by sign and spokesperson alike are truly noble, but most of the pseudo-revolutionaries would be at a loss to define sustainable development or civil disobedience. That is the problem with modern mass-protest. 

In the hands of those who cannot or will not understand them, even the best of ideas are a very dangerous thing. Nowhere in Das Kapital does Karl Marx outline purges or make mention of Gulag Archipelagos, but when his ideas were made manifest that was the result. In Seattle, the possibility of solidarity gave way to a riot of disorganized, uninformed groups with differing agendas. 

I do not mean this as a blanket generalization; there are those who, through intelligent protest and educated action, are bringing about significant change. In the spring of 2001, American corporate coffee giant Starbucks will be carrying Fair Trade coffee. That is a coup. That is progress. That is an achievement to be commended and should serve as a guiding light off the streets and into the boardrooms. 

So on the next sleepy Shawnessey Sunday, don’t go downstairs to put the finishing touches on your Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries protest sign. Stay in bed and read a book or two. Not only Marx but Smith; not only Naomi Klein but Ayn Rand. Arm yourself with information and knowledge about the battle you’re about to fight.

We all have the responsibility of being watchdogs in a democracy, but we’re useless if we can’t comprehend what we’re watching.

Leave a comment