Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Yes, Nationwide Protests Really Mean Something

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Yes, Nationwide Protests Really Mean Something

Article excerpt

Mass urban protests have always been a necessary part of American democracy, giving people who are marginalized a voice and a way to exert influence they wouldn't otherwise have.

We've been seeing more of them in recent years because more people justifiably feel excluded from consideration when decisions that affect their lives are made.

Americans revere the Boston Tea Party, yet many see contemporary protest movements as irritants that exist outside the political process.

Large-scale protests don't happen unless there's a major problem, so rather than seeing them as annoyances, people should ask what's broken.

When low-wage workers walk out across the country, or when a shooting in Ferguson, Mo., sparks protests as far away as Seattle, all of us need to listen.

People endlessly debate the details of particular wage plans or the sequence of events in Ferguson or even the character of Michael Brown, the young man shot dead by a police officer there, rather than looking up to see the larger reasons for protest.

Last week, I saw a play at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Robert Schenkkan's "All The Way," about Lyndon Johnson and the civil- rights movement. The play was set in the 1960s but felt contemporary, as it dealt with the interaction between the federal government and a mass protest movement by people shut out of that power - an interaction that yielded improvements in our democracy that would not have happened without pressure from outside the political and economic establishment.

How much say do you feel you have when government and corporations are making decisions on issues you care about?

Ordinary people are told to take their concerns to the voting booth. I make a point of voting, but at the same time I know election outcomes are shaped by elites and interest groups.

The National Rifle Association usually wins in Congress regardless of what opinion polls say voters want. Stadiums get built whether voters want them or not. Corporations demand and get special treatment all the time. The U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling even gave them supercitizen status, allowing them and other big players to spend on politics without restraint. …

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