I think Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and the mini-me protests that sprang up to duplicate it elsewhere were “hobby protests”. Since I coined the term, I might as well fully define “hobby protest”. I’ve used OWS as a current example but it is by no means unique. Here goes:
The whole point of a “hobby protest” is to have fun by cavorting in the public sphere. By definition, a “hobby protest” must be covered by the media or it ceases to exist. OWS seemed to be courting the media almost as much as the media was falling all over itself to cover OWS. They fed on each other. Non-hobby protests (“serious protests”) can be self sustaining without press coverage. For example, the anti-apartheid protests in South Africa which happened during a media blackout. Notice the difference? Without press coverage, OWS would have been “bored students and hippies on a campout in an unusual location” and nothing more. Folks in South Africa had things that needed to be addressed with or without a camera nearby.
For a “hobby protest” the experience of a group activity is part of the motivation, as are drama, and boisterousness. I suspect a “hobby protest” is fun, especially for folks with a gregarous personality. Maybe a “hobby protest” is akin to a large sporting event where the audience gets to take the field?
Hobby protests do not benefit from clearly defined and attainable goals, humility, efficient organization, self-policing, and unobtrusiveness. Therefore hobby protests tend to have less of these characteristics. Also fretting about portable toilets and parking space is boring. Too much emphasis on logistics detracts from the fun.
Hobby protests benefit from soulful music, amusing antics, funny costumes, and minor vandalism. So they tend to showcase them.
Hobby protests can be satisfying to the participants even if they accomplish no permanent change. Thus, meeting their demands won’t (in itself) end the protests; if anything it will encourage more. For example, if the OWS people got everything they wanted (including an autographed photo of Obama, a pony, and pancakes for breakfast) they’d be protesting something next year. (And they certainly will be out protesting, bank on it.) Maybe the issue du jour will be an environmental issue, or something related to alternative sexuality, or genetically modified carrots, or something I can’t even guess. The point is that there’s always something to protest if it’s your hobby. By comparison, if the TEA Party folks got what they want, they’d vanish without a peep pretty quickly. The TEA Party folks just aren’t that fun loving and their protests weren’t all that fun for them. You get the vibe that the TEA Party folks would rather be home pruning the Azaleas.
Most tellingly, “hobby protests” only exist where they are tolerated (even coddled). Berkley has protests constantly. Why? Because pepper spraying a hippie is their version of “oppression”. China has been quiet since 1989. Why? Because the government killed about 800 people in Tienanmen Square.
(I’m not advocating Chinese style repression but the Birkenstock crowd should be thankful American protesters have not been silenced because they are dead. Whenever some twerp is wailing about pepper spray and protesting about cuttlefish in Guam I’m glad I’m not seeing the Chinese response of tank tracks over crowds.)
In Part III I’ll list some historic “hobby protests”.
I think that your points on organisation, self-policing, unobtrusiveness, and toleration need to be reconsidered. Large, unorganised protests happened all over the Soviet block satellites as the USSR was collapsing. They gradually realised that for whatever reason the Governments they were defying couldn’t shut them up, and several governments fell. But they started up WITHOUT any expectation of tolerance (or weakness). Or that’s how I remember it, anyway.
In HOLIDAYS IN HELL P. J. O’Rourke has a chapter on assorted protests in Panama (1980’s, I think). They were having Anti-Government protests, Pro-Government protests (probably organised by the government), and student protests, each slightly different in character.
“And the students…well the students DON’T have a point. They have an Anti-Colonialism, an Anti-Americanism with cheese, and a small Che on the side.”
Also, if you can find it, I recommend Eric Frank Russell’s THE RABBAL ROUSERS, a humorous look at mob behaviour that includes chapters on the Sacco and Vanzetti Trial(s) and the Dreyfus Affaire in France. Hard to find, the book was only published once, in the early 1960’s. Interlibrary Loan is your friend there.
“Also fretting about portable toilets and parking space is boring. Too much emphasis on logistics detracts from the fun”
Ah yes. As the Military say “Amateurs discuss weapons and tactics, professionals discuss Logistics”. A subtle distinction lost on the touchy/feely, hug a tree and save the Whales great unwashed.
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I figured this out nearly two decades ago. Then again I live on the “left coast” near one of the protest capitals of the world: “Little Beirut”. Once you’ve seen a group of people protest the replacement of “antique” manhole covers (I’m not joking, they actually did this) you start to realize that the cause is just an excuse to throw a party- I mean, protest. Back in my grandparent’s day they had sewing bees, barn raisings & church functions. But this generation doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, they protest. Usually on Friday afternoons so that they can interrupt traffic for people with jobs that are trying to get home to start their weekends. At the protest they have refreshments, music, dancing, and “street theater” and they get to feel important for a little while. They also get to meet other like-minded people to form friendships and one-night stands with. So it’s no surprise that the same people will find another cause to rally behind before the month is out.