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When is it acceptable? Does it achieve anything?
In some way or another, nearly all protests that involve groups of people are political, from a local gathering who want a road sign changed to international mass marches against climate change. All such protests are political, since they are demanding action by authorities.
Definition of protest—manifestation of dissent
Recently there has been condemnation of the leave EU protests, within the EU parliament, those staged by elected members of that parliament. Their protests have been labelled undemocratic. There has been condemnation of the way those adherents to the idea that governments can stop climate change, disrupted political rallies and meetings. These two types of protest both drew criticism, although it seems not from the same critics. One showed disrespect, the other bordered on violence. Both acts resulted in great publicity but did they change the authorities' future actions? Since this is predicting the future there can not be any certainty but it does appear unlikely that the protests caused a change.
Remembering two earlier protests; the riots, in Britain, demanding change to the “poll tax” rules, these were prolonged and very violent. Also the huge mass but peaceful protest by the countryside alliance that most observers seemed to say was the largest ever seen but it remained peaceful. The poll tax did get changed but it is now called the council tax. The tax is still raised and the number of occupants still affect the amount of tax but those with larger homes pay more than those with smaller ones, so the left wing concept that those apparently richer pay more seems to be upheld. In reality many asset rich but income poor people have ended up paying more tax, while those on certain benefits are exempt anyway. The peaceful protest did not change anything as far as memory serves. From these examples it would seem, and this is a generalisation without evidential proof, protests that tend to be more violent than others, do get some, if only cosmetic, changes. In these two examples the left wing protests, against the poll tax, had better and more organised publicity than the more moderate and right of centre countryside alliance. This control of the publicity is helped by the fact that the left is very good at claiming moral certainty, even if only in their own view; while the moderate right, especially in British society, tends to find personal publicity distasteful. The more extreme right, that is those way beyond the moderate right of the rural shires, in Britain, have learnt that publicity and interaction from authorities only come when violence or threat of violence is involved. There is “rule” in behavioural psychology, that you get the behaviour that you reinforce. This appears to be true regarding protest. Reinforcement does not only include agreement and positive change but also involves any reaction, including aggressive disagreement.
All round the world, throughout history, there have been protests about technical innovation. From machines replacing horse drawn ploughs to computers making quill pen operating clerks redundant, change has resulted in protest but these protests get discarded as patterns of employment change. These changes to employment, follow some time after the technical changes. In the industrialised nations much of these protests came when coal mining became unprofitable because demand was reduced and supply maintained. The deeper more difficult mines were not viable economically. The fact is such mines require much greater skill and commitment from the miners but that only added to the dissatisfaction when economics caused pit closures.
These protests aroused much public sympathy but did they stop the closures of the mines? No, despite levels of violence (from both sides) that seem even now, to be extreme.
The media love a good protest as it generates easy copy, easy ways of filling air time and news pages at very little cost to the media platform. Which brings back the original questions, what is an acceptable protest? And do they achieve anything? The media can cause protest deliberately and by lazy journalism that does not question the “facts” provided by one side or the other. Increasingly political activists resort to lies and deceit and unless the media exposes these, the public can get pulled into unworthy protests.
Since we live in a materialist based society, damage to property and killing people are regarded as unacceptable and so that seems clear. As to, do they achieve anything? This is harder to decide, in some cases, such as the poll tax riots and the Arab Spring uprisings, these seem to have resulted in change but examined carefully the changes do not always appear as significant as the original protest demanded. Changes of government that simply replaces, one unaccountable collection of people with another set, that over time also becomes unaccountable, does not mean a significant change has taken place; any more that changing the name and superficial terms, of a tax alters the fact that tax is still collected.
The conclusion must be that damage to people or property is unacceptable in a political protest and protest itself achieves very little. It can be said that war is the ultimate political protest and this only brings change if one side wins and those changes are the ones imposed by the victors.
How do we change political plans without protest? In a democracy this could be done by electing candidates to government, candidates that genuinely want the change. This takes time and humans are getting far more impatient. This does not provide the media with cheap copy and so they will do nothing to support this pathway to change.
Increasingly modern politics is about the presentation of vague ambitions and the presentation is the big factor, rather than any real substance or genuinely radical plans for dealing with expected future problems. When did any politician announce that to save the planet the populations needs reducing? All this is negative and depressing. We need change to the process of democracy with decision making and power, at smaller, more local levels, than any nation has at the moment. Otherwise this situation will worsen. We will go on having more political decisions that are disconnected from the public, more protest, more violence and more ignoring of the protests.