Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Andy: Herding Cats

"Trying to organize Democrats is like trying to herd cats."

I went to the anti-privatization rally on the 21st and had a really good time. It's fun to hang out with people you agree with. It's also fun to argue with Bush invitees. But was it an anti-privatization rally or an anti-Bush rally? I thought it was the former, but when I got there I saw it was the latter. Some of the protesters had anti-war signs and argued with the Bushies in line about the war. Some had pro-choice signs and argued that issue. Some argued about the economy. Etc. Now, I hate the SOB and all his policies as much as anyone because I love my country, but I was disappointed that we couldn't keep the focus on our opposition to privatization. Instead, over half of the crowd came to protest other policies (war, choice, false morality, etc.) and generally vent against Bush. This is good for an anti-Bush rally, but bad for an anti-privatization rally.

Whatever we do publically sends the public a message and that message will always be interpreted as an answer to the other guy's message. If Bush were to make a speech here, or on TV, on his administration's successful policies, we could answer his message of administration successes with our message that all those policies are failures. Anti-Bush rallies, with signs protesting all his policies and speakers who demonstrate how those policies are failures, would even be good to hold on a regular basis. But at these rallies we wouldn't be protesting only privatization and carrying only anti-privatization signs. That would send the message that his other policies were successes - because we didn't protest those other policies. It sends the wrong message.

Since we wouldn't protest the whole of the Bush administration's policies by protesting just one policy, then likewise we shouldn't be protesting one policy by protesting them all. When Bush comes here to talk up privatization and over half of the crowd comes to protest other policies, we aren't seen answering his message with a focussed message of our own. Over half of the crowd weren't even trying to answer Bush's message of that day; instead, they were answering messages that weren't being sent. Protesting all issues at a single issue rally dilutes that rallies message. It sends the wrong message. The only message that the public perceives is that we're just those disorganized Democrats who can't even make up our minds on what we're protesting.

When the rally is a protest of the Bush privatization plan, we should leave the other signs at home. A protest is a message and messaging requires discipline. Message discipline means focus and repetition. It doesn't mean regimentation because after all, we're not Republicans. The Republicans in line for the President's speech were all carrying the exact same sign. This is unnecessary as well as undesirable. All message discipline requires is that we protest the same thing at the same rallies. At an anti-privatization rally signs that say Bush is a war criminal, while true, detract from the message that rally is trying to send. There were plenty of variations on the anti-privatization message at that rally. If those were the only signs, they would have reinforced the message that privatization was a bad idea on so many levels. But instead they were lost in a sea of signs protesting other issues. When too many messages are sent at once the message that the public perceives is a garbled one and easily distorted by media and the opposition. Message discipline would reinforce a perception of progressive solidarity in in opposition to a particular policy. It helps frame the debate our way by taking away the stereotype of disorganization and self-interest. Lack of that discipline sends a message that we are more interested in our own issues, regardless of the context, than in supporting each other in all progressive issues.

Organizing progressive protests and rallies shouldn't be like trying to herd cats. When I go to a peace rally, I want to carry an anti-war sign. When I go to a pro-choice rally, I want a pro-choice sign. I might wear a button or T-shirt about another issue, but I want to show solidarity with those who are protesting other issues I also disagree with Bush on. Even though the issues I care about most are Social Security and health care, I wouldn't go to any of these other rallies with an anti-privatization sign. I don't want to detract from the message of that particular rally. I want to reinforce the message being sent by that rally, secure in the knowledge that other progressives will do the same at rallies for my issues. Staying on message isn't a good thing just for party leaders but also for the grassroots.


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