Are Mass Protests Still Relevant?

G8 Protest

Protesting today is often an exercise in futility. How can we change the pattern?

Photo: ABC News

In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq invasion, I protested on the streets of Vancouver. By all accounts it was a large crowd. We chanted slogans. We held signs. We blocked traffic for a few hours. We congregated on the beach. Millions of people around the world also protested on that day.

Soon after, the US still invaded Iraq. I watched the initial bombing unfold like a video game with hyper-realistic graphics. The news anchors wore grave expressions on their faces, though secretly loved to have such compelling footage to share with the viewers.

Five years later, I don’t need to outline the many reasons why the war is a massive failure.

I can’t help but think back to those massive protests and wonder, would it have mattered? If you had asked me then, I would have answered unequivocally “yes.” Of course it mattered. How else can the general populace broadcast their dissent with misguided policies around the world?

But now, I’m undecided.

The Struggle With Violence

The trouble with mass protests is they don’t changes policies very quickly. People tend to get impatient when they don’t see politicians doing much in response. And they have a nasty habit of attracting agitators that may turn a peaceful protest into a tear-gas extravaganza.

Eventually, ineffectual protests may give way to armed resistance. Armed resistance is easy for the government to label “terrorism” and squash without mercy.

I believe Lennon would agree. In I Met The Walrus, an interview captured 30 years ago in his hotel room, and now recently released, he essentially outlines the folly of armed struggle.

The establishment has the guns and the money to stay in power. If the emerging resistance finds a way to topple the government, they almost inevitably establish their own corrupt government and the cycle continues.

So what’s to be done? Without mass protests, how can the populace voice their dissent and change things for the better?

A Challenging Truth

I’ve discovered two steps. First, as Lennon says in his interview, you have to get your own mind right first. There’s no sense trying to create change when you may be inadvertently making the situation worse through the hundreds of actions we do every day.

Second, we need to stop fighting violence with violence. This can relate to mass protest, but it could also speak to how we conceptualize right versus wrong. Left versus right. Democrat versus Republican.

Too often, politics can devolve into one side wanting to be right, rather than a discussion of the issues at hand. Defending one politician over the other, if not done with clear mind and vision, further generates negative energy.

And negativity only serves as the bolster the opposition to further entrench their position (and defend their egos). I’m not saying mass protest should be abandoned, but we need to find a new way to conducting them, to ensure we don’t fall back on the same patterns.

As the Tao Te Ching states beautifully:

“Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.”

What are your thoughts on mass protests? Are they still relevant?


  1. I think it’s much more important to spend your time and energy talking to people who want to hear what you’re saying, than it is wasting your vocal chords yelling at anyone who doesn’t. I think rallies can still be effective, but the effect should be focused on informing those who choose attend it, rather than just yelling at a building full of people who choose not to. This way, you can assemble where ever they’ll have you, and you can win by having more fun, rather than having to worry about security fences and face recognition.

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