Presidents and Protesters: Political Rhetoric in the 1960s

By Theodore Otto Windt Jr. | Go to book overview

7
Liberal Protest Procedural Politics and Deliberative Rhetoric

American protest movements begin reasonably enough. When large numbers of people become disturbed about an issue or policy or event, they turn not to radicalism but to procedural politics, not to ideologies but to practicalities, not to revolution but to reform. They seek to redress grievances through existing legal and legislative channels. Though they may condemn certain authorities and certain political systems (such as the entrenched system of segregation in the South), they appeal to other leaders or higher authorities to right these wrongs. Each of the prominent movements of the 1960s began in this manner, as a movement involved in procedural politics and deliberative rhetoric.

American protest movements also begin as single-issue movements. The civil rights movement concentrated on obtaining basic political and legal rights. The student movement originally began in protest against certain university rules. The feminist movement sought initially to acquire equal rights for women. But they share a common approach: reformist, procedural, parliamentary. They accept the legitimacy of existing institutions and ask mainly that leaders change particular policies regarding issues dissidents are agitated about. Protesters outside the corridors of power organize public meetings to publicize their concerns (peaceful demonstrations, sit- ins, teach-ins, protests against the Miss America contest, marches on symbolic settings). In other words, they combine peaceful appeals for change with direct action that sometimes involves civil dis-

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