I have always been a firm believer in the power of protest and have even once received fifteen minutes of fame for a rather grandiose showing at the G20 Protests in Pittsburgh in 2009 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Article). As a child, I joined in every possible act of protest for a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. I wrote letters to the president and public representatives. I phoned local media outlets to get them to cover what I saw as gross injustices. However, now as I get older, I fear becoming increasingly disenchanted, and even disgusted, at any attempt to influence our ever distant governing structure. It’s been particularly difficult since watching the fallout of the protests in Pennsylvania against Hydraulic Fracturing to keep our waters safe. But, still, when a chance to protest arises, I get the same butterflies in my stomach. I go through the same process of mental preparation. My energy changes. I feel hope.
In order to get rid of the nagging voice that says protesting is a waste of time, I usually tell myself, and any who inquire, that it at least shows politicians, lobbyists, and business execs that we’re bearing witness to their crimes, that we still care enough to come together against it, even if it is for purely symbolic purposes. I do believe this; however, I’m also looking at protest in another context now—that of a ritual. Protest is essentially performance, a form of play: the signs, the chants, the songs, the clapping, the stomping. It is an act of heavy, directed, and focused intent, a secular form of prayer.
I just finished Carlos Castaneda’s first book The Teachings of Don Juan and found in it an interesting correlation to a book on new physics, Punk Science by Manjir Samta-Laughton. Samta-Laughton references prayer studies which show that prayer is more effective statistically than many leading medications, even aspirin. Both Don Juan’s teachings on the acquisition of power and Samta-Laughton’s analysis of prayer refer to the amazing capacity of focused thought and intent to bend and shape reality. Protest, the gathering of individuals passionately intending on bringing into reality a common goal, could quite possibly have a very real and significant effect on our collective consciousness, even if that goal seems materialistically impossible in our corporatocracy.
The recognition and belief in this power would make action and true acts of protest more viable for us as a people. We need to tear ourselves away from the news (even the “liberal” media) which only reveals to us the most limited means and most narrow paths to change. I’ll reference one of Obama’s favorite rhetorical tool, marking “false choices” (false dichotomies), here. We’re consistently fed false choices through our media. We can vote republican or democrat. We can drink poisoned water or we can live in poverty. We can continue on in this particular political system or let our society into anarchic chaos. Once we begin to realize the power of community and positive and focused collective intent, perhaps we will begin to note the abundance of false choices that we’re being fed and act against them in ways that formerly seemed impossible.
Americans cannot afford to opt out of the trend of collective action and meaningful protest. We need to begin to believe that true power can be obtained from it, that it’s not merely symbolic. Once this occurs, I am positive that we will begin to see radical change taking place as more and more people realize the infinite possibilities for diverse and truly free ways of living.