Unlike hobby protests, serious protests can be (and usually are) brutal. Hobbyists who marinate in 1960’s rose colored memories (often through second hand exposure) think protests are fun. Serious protests are not fun. Serious protests are something to avoid. Avoiding chaos is the whole purpose of society. Societies, organizations, governments, free citizens, and subjects alike all would rather avoid serious protests.
Not infrequently serious protests foment war. Damage can be widespread. Sometimes people are killed. Established orders (good or bad) can give way to absolutely unpredictable results. There’s no guarantee the aftermath will be better than what came before.
For all these reasons, serious protests are rare, frightening, and often fail. When hobbyists Occupied Wall Street they pretended they were a serious protest. It is fortunate for all of us, especially them, that they were just playing and didn’t unleash anything particularly deadly.
Here are five examples of serious protests. They were all dangerous. They all came only as a last resort. They all shook the firmament of their societies. Note that they span divergent societies. Note that they span centuries of history. Note that some succeeded and some failed. Note that none was without risk or the possibility of disaster. When you read about these you’ll know that Occupy Wall Street is just (so far) so much bullshit and posing. There is no guarantee you can go home after a serious protest as if it was a spring break holiday:
- Tienanmen Square (1989) “Attention Communist rulers of our home nation of China. The Communist system is making us poor and pissed off and we’re not going to take it anymore. We know that it’s dangerous to oppose the Government but we’re occupying a public place to make sure you address our concerns.” (Aftermath: The Chinese government killed about 800 people in one day to utterly crush the Tienanmen Square movement.)
- Polish Shipyard Strikes (1980): “Attention Communist Party members here and their puppet masters in Soviet Russia. The Communist system is making us poor and pissed off and we’re not going to take it anymore. We want labor reform and some basic rights like freedom of speech and religion. If we don’t get what we want you’re never going to get a ship out of this harbor again!” (Aftermath: The Polish state became far freer with limited bloodshed. Lech Walesa is a hero.)
- French Rebellion (1792): “We like the freedoms that the American citizens have and wish the same thing for ourselves. The monarchy has to go.” (Aftermath: the French revolution might have superficial parallels to the American revolution but it spun wildly out of control. It might have started as an “Arab Spring” and maybe guillotining King Louis XVI was standard protocol but it turned into an orgy of violence where some 1,400 people were imprisoned and guillotined.)
- American Rebellion (1776): “Hey King! You’re not the boss of us! Your taxes and governing style piss us off. We know you’re going to send an army to kill us and we’re prepared to kill you right back.” (Aftermath: The American revolution wasn’t all tri-cornered hats and fifes! While we all remember the shot heard round the world at Concord, we all forget that a quarter of New York City was destroyed. By comparison with a hobby protest; hippies in 2011 whining about student loans aren’t signing documents with a 10% chance of death and nobody is suggesting drums and patchouli will level Manhattan. Luckily it turned out well. America, with significant help from France, became a beacon of freedom and liberty. Go team!)
- Martin Luther (1517): “Hey Pope! Despite the fact that the church is hugely powerful and you’re said to be the infallible liaison to God I’m calling bullshit on you and your organization. Here is a list of 95 specific reasons why I think the way you’ve managed the church is wrong. You can doom me to hell but you can’t shut me up.” (Aftermath: Schism. The church did not take well to Mr. Luther’s complaints and soon a hodgepodge of wars erupted sufficient to fill several history texts. Notably the Thirty Years’ War which was a perfect demonstration of the term “cannon fodder”. I’m insufficiently skilled in religion/history to summarize the mess that stomped all over Europe but I know a whole lot of peasants fought to death while the rest starved and cowered in fear. The only outcome I can really quantify is that the debate over indulgences was over until Al Gore started marketing carbon credits.)
So there you have it. Serious protests are brutal and can light the fuse to epic changes; some good, some bad, but none painless. Occupy Wall Street yahoos whining about student loans have not fully considered the gates of hell that a serious protest can open. The right (and responsibility) of civic protest is a component of being a free American citizen, but it is not a toy. It is the last resort for a serious, legitimate, and unbearable series of grievances. Hobby protesters think protesting is fun; a way to kill a weekend. It is not. The OWS folks and their ilk are children fiddling with a loaded gun without comprehending the the tragedy they might inadvertently cause.