Sunday, January 21, 2018


Yesterday was, I am told, a day for rallies and marches all across the nation. I didn't go downtown yesterday (that being like most days), and so I saw absolutely no sign of the activism that the news media told me was taking place.

And I wonder if that isn't a flaw in the way we think of activism today. It occurs to me that the way things are really done in the United States is not through activism, but through lobbying. Well-paid operatives present themselves to lawmakers and lay out for them their understanding of the world, as their employers would like to see it. Whether they present carefully-selected information points as facts to claim that what they are after is the best thing for the public at large, whether they offer corrupt quid-pro-quos or whether they simply offer assistance in whatever priorities the lawmaker has, the end result is that laws are passed (or defeated) in ways that largely compost with the interests of major, well-funded, interest groups.

For other things, things that the public finds important, marching in the streets is considered a victory.

It's easy to chalk a lot of this up to the "wealth and power" of the interest groups that hire the lobbyists. But the fact of the matter is for most of these groups (and, to be sure, individuals as well), it was the public that made them wealthy. And it is the collective societal willingness to take the lead from them that makes them powerful. These are not things that were forcibly wrested from society at the point of a gun or by force of law. These are things that society has willingly given, and even when the general understanding is that they are being used against the public good, there seems to be little appetite for reclaiming them.

Instead, people gather in small areas, and march.

This is not to cast aspersions on the marchers. They are doing what they understand that they need to in order to show their numbers and their desire to be heard. But they are never going to be as well listened to as a lobbyist, unless the cause is so obviously in the public's eye that only one outcome will save an elected official from unemployment come the next election cycle.

Participatory government is mostly taken to mean voting. But it has to be more than that. It has to mean a certain amount of interest in, and understanding of, the way things actually work. But that takes work, and it seems that there are only a few people who are ready and willing to put in that work, even if they are able.

It's odd to think that making one's way to a protest site and participating in public demonstration is the easy way out. But maybe that's what it is. And perhaps that explains why it seems so ineffective in the end.

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