A few weeks ago I attended some sessions at a conference called the Midwest Social Forum. The events took place at UW-Milwaukee, and as I described in my post on cynicism, I had very mixed views about attending. I stuck to the immigration seminars, but I still became irritated at the people who would raise their hands during the so-called Q&A sessions and give speeches about organizing protests. In one instance, the moderator actually requested that everyone please not give speeches, because there wasn’t time for that and they really wanted to panel to address questions. The first person called on came up to the front of the room and literally gave a three-minute speech. Sonofa!
Changing the subject slightly, I had a mini-flashback today: I have been protested. In 1999 I was the Opinion Editor of the Daily Cardinal, a traditionally liberal student newspaper at UW-Madison, and we’d written a staff editorial they didn’t like. (Perhaps one of the Rachels remembers exactly what the issue was here, but I’m not recalling it right now). Anyway, the day it ran 40 student activists, the same people who protested everything that was to be protested at the UW campus that year, people I had routinely interviewed and knew by name, decided that the Cardinal had wronged them.
They arrived at our office mid-afternoon, before many of the other editors were out of class. So Danielle the Campus Editor, a few odd writers and I were the only ones in the office at the start of their “sit-in.” I was basically trapped at my desk for several hours. The protesters filled our small, excessively messy office and chanted, raised their hands and gave speeches about what we had said with our Constitution-granted free speech. Danielle and I were fairly quiet. I’m pretty sure my inappropriate tendency to smirk and laugh in tense situations became an issue. The other editors trickled in to work and eventually the sit-in ended–we really needed to work on the next day’s issue, and someone convinced them to leave.
So I was thinking this be part of the root of my irritation toward these protester/activists types. I respect the issues they are trying to get across, but a stroke of realism might help them be more effective with the rest of society. But what possible good can come from protesting a student newspaper? I mean, freedom of press, come on now! So I suppose in the same way abused children may grow up to be dysfunctional adults, having been protested has made me hostile towards protesters.
I would like to say that many protests inspire me. It was amazing to watch the film of thousands walking across the 6th Street Bridge in Milwaukee and 10,000 peacefully gathered at the Capitol in Madison this spring. I believe large-scale protests turn heads. I hope some people became more sympathetic toward immigrant issues due to those demonstrations, I really do. I respect the organizers in Milwaukee, but there is a difference between that and some of the petty issues and vague, empty rhetoric I heard from some of the inexperienced activists in Madison. I don’t want to lump people into a box, but when it becomes clear that some people haven’t a clue what they are talking about, it’s frustrating. I try to stay up-to-date on issues and frequently change my mind. I think that’s good. I suppose if I were running against Bush for president I’d be slaughtered for being “wishy-washy.” However, I really want politicians, protesters, activists and those seeking political change to temper passion, justice and rhetoric with common sense, an understanding of their audience, and a bit of innovation.