Online petitions and small scale protests

25 Feb

Back in high school I was very politically active. A starry-eyed firebrand I’d join in protests, wage road sign wars, and eagerly engage in political debates with other high-school students. I later realized the party I would have at one point died for was just as fucked up in its own right as the party I loathed with every fiber of my being, but that’s besides the point. I just wanted to start off by saying I’ve been there, I used to be one of the people I’m about to discuss.

Everyday on my way home from work I pass by the South Carolina state capital building, and almost everyday there is a small group of anti-war protesters huddled around some signs. They look even more beleaguered in the cold, freezing their butts of waving around their little signs.

Seriously, what’s the point? Stop it.

Wait, hold your rage and comments for two seconds and hear me out. I fully 100% support what they support. I think the wars in Iraq are a horrible waste of lives and money.

But seriously, what’s the point of protesting here in South Carolina, the angry redneck conservative capital of the US. This was, after all, the first state to declare war on the US and secede. It’s conservative heaven.

I know the standard response (I was one of them once, remember?). It goes something like “Well, we’re out here doing this even though it seems pointless because it is important to let people know that there are people who will stand up against such things.” I can see the merit in that argument, but I’m not sure it’s actually that effective in reality. In reality I get the feeling that people look at you like just a group of idiots whooping and hollering in the cold with your stupid signs.

A small group of people standing around with signs never really does anything. A large group, yes, but a small group just seems to accent how fringe you are to the rest of the people in the community. Also, keep in mind this IS South Carolina. You have no chance in hell of changing anyone’s mind. They are, and forever will be, stuck with their heads so far up their asses they’ll never see the light of day or reason. If you were in a swing state, sure, but here? Fuck no.

Also, online petitions….to put it bluntly they are pointless. Absolutely pointless. “Click here to save the _____________” You’re little electronic signature doesn’t do shit. If you want to actually support a cause, get off your ass, leave your house, and go volunteer. Clicking a button on the computer is a worthless gesture.

The only time petitions actually work is when they are signed by a large group of people, in person, on a local scale. The only power a petition has is the threat of losing all the below signed names as voters. This only really has an effect in a small arena where every vote is important. Online petitions lose this power because A) There is no real way to confirm that the person signing is an actual person and not just some dick signing it over and over again, B) Even if they are a real person, the internet is global, not local, and so the vast majority of people who sign do not have enough collective voting power to threaten the politicians who are the recipients of such petitions. C) You can erase an entire petition by simply clicking “delete”.

“Oh but GP, it shows how many people support/oppose an idea!” I’ve got some bad news for you: the politicians don’t give a shit. It doesn’t matter how many people support/oppose something. It’s not about them and it’s not about the issues. It never has been, that’s just the guise everything operates under. Local petitions threaten local politicians and their access to local money, that’s the only reason they work. Global petitions don’t have any teeth with which to threaten a politician’s money supply and so they’re pointless. *delete*

3 Responses to “Online petitions and small scale protests”

  1. timberwraith February 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    I’d argue that the small protests in your state—really, all protests everywhere—serve an additional function that you haven’t mentioned: they offer an emotional outlet for those who participate and they also offer a means of spending time together with like-minded individuals.

    I think such an act is particularly useful if one holds an opinion or perspective that isn’t very popular. There’s something cathartic about announcing one’s position in the face of wide opposition and simply saying, “Fuck y’all. This is what I think.”

    This reminds me of coming out as a transgender person and a queer feminist woman. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) a popular space to occupy, particularly in the early 90s, but it was extremely liberating to give the world the finger and openly stand up for oneself and one’s perspectives. My participation in political activism in college was very much a part of this process. I represented anything but he majority and all of that happened in the relatively progressive state of Maryland, nearly 20 years ago.

    The closet is a fairly craptastic place to spend one’s time. One can be politically and philosophically closeted, just as one can be closeted as an LGBT person. (As an atheist, I’m betting that you understand that.) For this reason, I’d argue that in states such as SC, it might be even more important for progressives to publicly voice their opinions. It’s far better than feeling isolated, alone, and voiceless.

    Anyway, I sometimes think that people miss the emotional importance of a public/political act. I think it’s just as pragmatic to examine how emotional needs are met as is the need to create widespread social change. The latter can’t happen if the former isn’t dealt with.

    Besides, if folks had always believed that such action was completely futile, your state would still have black and white public facilities. You have to start somewhere, right?

  2. godlesspaladin February 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    That’s a really good point timberwraith, I hadn’t considered the emotional aspect of it.

  3. greengeekgirl February 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    Getting together to protest can be good for the soul, but results do come from action. Particularly voting and spending money, in addition to volunteering and donating money. Nothing’s going to change if we keep electing the same ol’ people.

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