I've also wondered why this hasn't started happening here yet. We have so many desperate people out there. Maybe they're afraid of our police state cops who are armed as well as the military? Or maybe things just aren't quite bad enough yet. But I don't think we should delude ourselves into thinking that it can't happen here. As the enormous gulf between the rich and poor keeps on growing I can't see how that won't explode eventually.
I think you're right about the possibilities for angry outburts. But without organization, you don't get clear demands or extended campaigns. It's much easier for opportunistic politicians to exploit unfocused rage.
Just check the polls. Americans don't feel they have to go to the street yet but they are angry with both parties and Obama. Just watch what happens in 2012. Their votes will speak loud and clear. Personally I can't wait.
Alas, the voters rarely give clear answers, except NO. But what will the voters in 2012 be rejecting? Obama? Democrats? Republicans? How can you reject all of them in an American election:?
There is no particular individual to protest against to get rid of. It is the political system which creates at this time an uncompromising situation. The parties strive for political advantage over the welfare of the nation.
Huh? I spent a good part of February and March freezing my donkey, my mule and my other beast of burden protesting the Tea Party putsch at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. Reframe your question, please, to "Why aren't Americans protesting like those in Wisconsin have?"
I'd point to organization, again. The trade unions, both locally and nationally, took the lead in mobilizing in Madison. And they obviously got substantial support from other Wisconsonians (is that what we say?). Parents with kids in school care about their teachers!
Very good article, I would love to belive we are working out our problems via Madison's vision, however our desperate situation was succinctly predicted by Eisenhower in his his farewell addres to the nation in 1962. The military-industrial complex has prevailed and expanded into the pharma-health insurance complex, wall street-financial complex and all the attendent lobbying [ bribery ]. How will democracy overcome plutocracy?
This may be the worst of times, but when we look back through American history, plenty of periods looked much worse. And Americans organized and made change. It's never enough for those who are engaged, but that doesn't mean it doesn't matter.
Because Americans are a me first nation. Protests require a one for all and all for one mentality. Not in the DNA of most AMERCANs
Aw, look at American history. There's plenty of courageous altruistic collective action in our past. Why not in our future?
In Rome it was bread and circuses. In the U.S. it's Prozac and "Jersey Shore." With the youth of America obsessed with narcissistic self-promotion on Facebook and with no ideology to replace hypercapitalism, who and what is out there to incite protest?
There's plenty of incitement. My question is: where's the organization?
There has always been mindless entertainment. (Is there really more now?)
Agree the PEOPLE are disenfranchised (appalled, disgusted, etc.). Out of curosity continue to read and have attended meetings organized by "national" orgs. It appears the PEOPLE have been "dished" for so long it is wondered if the effort will be worth it. Where is the civics in education today? The "ruling class" (Congress) does not get it. They (Congress) are the employees and the PEOPLE are there employers. Appears the message may be getting through but there is much work to be done. Thank you for this opportunity to express opinion/observation.
I don't see Congress as the ruling class. Most members want to keep their jobs and work to please the people who keep them in office. This includes voters (in lopsided, gerrymandered districts) AND funders.
An answer. Protesting historically has been done by the misfits, the class envy crowd, and the nitwit liberals who are against everything. Most decent people don't take to the streets, or you would see throngs in front of the White House protesting against the empty suit leftist who resides there when he isn't on vacation.
I don't buy it. You can find a lunatic in any crowd, for sure. But movements in America have included Nobel prize winners, heroes of all sorts, and lots of conscientious and committed individuals.
I think you miss the point when you say the the Unions must represent the unemployed, the unions must represent the over 85% of employees not in unions. Union can not longer believe the US will one day be univerally unionized as it did in the 30"s. It must go the European route of making all demand universal to all american saleried employees.
Pretty interesting amendment. And it makes sense. Why shouldn't workers without health insurance be organizing to get it--rather than to take it away from others.
I applauded when I Read your article because I wondered myself many times why we are not protesting. I look at the courageous people protesting for democratic change and wonder where is our outrage and courage? We have a dysfunctional government, regardless of party. Our young people should be out on the streets howling in outrage, instead they are twittering and facebooking into oblivion. They don't realize how important they are to our political future and our countries growth. Instead we are overtaken by the babyboomers who have self preservation as the agenda and who are afraid to shake the ground lest they fall. Thanks for listening.
I don't want to be a polyanna here, but I'm hard-pressed to dismiss (or valorize) any generation as checked-out, selfish, or apathetic. There are plenty of efforts, across all generations.
How bad would it have to get in order for Americans to lead 60's style demonstrations? Do you believe taking to the streets would change things?
When the Tea Party activists took to the streets, it did change things. The activists, supported by well-established and well-funded organizations, energized and refocused the Republican party. I don't see any reason this couldn't happen on the other side of the political spectrum. I also don't think it's a function of how bad things get. Again, the Tea Party's success suggests as much. It's hardly the worst time for rich people in America. See,, for example, Warren Buffet's article in the NYTimes this morning. (Sorry to promote another paper.)
Obama's style of leadership doesn't seem to be working. What are your ideas for channeling the increasing rage of those on the Left and Middle into political power that unites the nation rather than fomenting further polarization and divisiveness?
Do you think it's possible to be politically sharp and aggressive and civil at the same time? I hope never to see any American politician's face with a Hitler mustache again. But that doesn't mean you can't make strong demands for things American say they want--like a progressive tax system.
Professor Meyer. I know your space was limited and you attributed the growth in the conservative backlash to large well funded organizations but the tea party movement contains several grass roots organizations which were funded primarily from small individual contributions. Such organizations as the Patriot Action Network, Tea Party Express, Move America Forward and the Campaign to Defeat Barak Obama are from and funded by the grass roots. It is a public backlash against run away spending and debt. The riots will come when we are forced to curb entitlements and welfare benefits. Bill Dempsey, White River Junction, Vermont.
The Tea Party wouldn't have happened without a mobilizeable base of regular people. You need both national organization and money AND a grassroots base. I don't mean to suggest for a second that there's no grassroots holding tea party signs.
I'm curious, however, about how well that alliance, between those Washington groups and the grassroots will hold up. After all, they ARE interested in very different things.
Maybe because they know they would be teargassed, beaten ,and arrested,and if the protests looked as if they might be effective, they would be called 'terrorists" and could be shot,like they shot the students at Kent State! Remember what happened to the protesters at the democratic convention in 1968? In America the government and the media are cheerleaders for protests in foreign countries, but woe to those who protest against the powers in Washington!
Again, I don't want to be a pollyanna, but American police in most cities are pretty good at policing without brutalizing demonstrators--most of the time. And in Madison, for example, the police were involved in the marches--even though Governor Walker didn't go after their union.
Several people were interviewed by the BBC relative to why they were protesting. The telling comment was," Why not? We have nothing, no jobs, no hope, no future prospects." We have millions of unemployed or underemployed people here in the U.S., there will come a time when they say, "Why not?" History has proven time and time again, when the populous has nothing, they reach a point when they have had enough. Watch out elitists, corporate america, mega-banks and those who say with inpunity, "The unemployed need not apply." The time is coming when Americans will say, "Why not?"
I'm not a fan of British rioters who think they have nothing to lose. I wonder what Americans think they can win.
You mention the "Bush-Obama bailout". If memory serves, Obama had absolutely nothing to do with it other than sitting like a statue at the conference table when decisions were being made by Paulson, et.al. I resent your attempt at pulling Obama into it. It is dishonest and totally untrue. Like many before you, perhaps you think that if you say it often enough it will become fact.
When President Obama opted to appoint, at Treasury, someone who had signed onto the bailout, he took responsibility for the program--even if he didn't design it.
I don't agree that all protests need organizers. The anti-Viet Nam War protests were very spontaneous. I think the fact is that people feel so beaten down and are very aware that the system is rigged against them that they know there is no purpose in protesting. I was at a Country Joe McDonald concert tonight. There were 5000 people on the lawn, mostly older people. And when he sang the I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag that was so popular at Woodstock and CSN's For What It's Worth, just a small percentage sung along, hardly anyone stood. Mostly they were sitting there enjoying the music and not making the connection to what is happening or what should be happening today. It was very depressing.
There were lots of people heavily invested in organizing the campaigns against the Vietnam war, including long time pacifists (like Dave Dellinger), student activists (SDS people like Tom Hayden), and others. The marches didn't just happen. (Read about the Trial of the Chicago 7/8--the charge was conspiracy.) As to people caught up in the moment without much understanding of the politics--that's part of the terrain of social movements in America and everywhere.
One of the things I'm angriest about is the way that teachers and school employees, along with other public employees, have been attacked by governments of both parties. As a Democrat, I was outraged to see New Jersey Democrats fall in line with our Republican governor to scapegoat public employees. I've participated in several protest marches to support public employees and to advocate for my child, a public school student whose class size has increased by 7 students in one year. I can't understand why more parents aren't joining us in supporting teachers & schools and calling politicians to task. In addition, I can't believe the influx of profiteers who are trying to lobby government so they can make money off my child. Believe me when I say I'm mad as hell and looking for ways to educate my friends and neighbors.
Let me confess to being a big fan of teachers. As a parent who cares about public education, I don't understand how cutting salaries and making working conditions worse will help my kids' education--all our kids' education. This is something the market doesn't deliver for most people. We need government.
We have stood up. Tea-Party is America.
Great example. The Tea Party has mobilized effectively against progressive taxation and (some) government spending. It represents, according to polls, the preferences of something short of 30 percent of Americans. There's another 70 percent out there.
Why aren't Americans protesting? Americans ARE protesting -- ever heard of the Tea Party? Of course, you don't understand that. You want left-wing riots like in Britain -- greedy liberals on the dole violently demanding more. Instead you've got good Americans thoughtfully and peacefully working for change. Cutting government spending so we can have a future. Get it, liberals?
See the answers above. I'm not a fan of riots, again. And I have no reason to believe that the Tea Party's program/s represent what most Americans say they want.
Very informative column. Tea party? It's a label that the corporate media has given to the extreme right-wing of the republican party whose primary agenda is domestic policy! The same corporate media that changed "mercenaries" into "contractors"! If the Tea party seems too extreme, the Republicans will not be blamed,it's the Tea party! Great strategy! As for no protests,maybe street & legal drugs,or fluoride,do you really think Uncle Sam cares about your teeth?
Flouridated water came late to Orange County, where I live. I'm glad it's hear and that I don't have to give my kids another vitamin every morning or get them additional fillings.
Funded by the Koch brothers. I'd protest against them.
The Koch brothers put money into their beliefs--and their business interests. As an American, I think that's their right, but everyone should understand what those beliefs and interests are.
Those countries have virtually none of items in the bill of rights. We may be upset at our politicians, but we don't have gunboats patrolling our beaches, opening fire at anyone who dare disagree with them. The London situation was barely even a protest, it was a bunch of hooligans causing chaos. Burning down your own neighborhood and stealing TVs from an electronics store is not a way to bring on change. All protests aren't equal and its about time we stopped pretending that is the case. It almost sounds like you are trying to incite rioting by this title.
All protests and all countries aren't the same. I thought I was pretty clear that our political system was designed to channel dissent into the electoral system, so that our governments are neither autocratic nor vulnerable.
Why wouldn't anyone want the wealthy to pay their "FAIR" share. And what would be FAIR? Taking into consideration that the middle class got "JACKED" and they are the driving force for income in OUR country. What is FAIR?
See Buffet's piece today in the NYTimes.
Dr. Meyer, your article is interersting. However, what good does protesting do? Hundreds of students protested the University of California tuition increases several months ago. The university system went merrily on, despite the protests. In 2002, the D.C. Metropolitian Police unlawfully arrested some protestors. Some protestors won some damages. However, some D.C. police tapes and records were destroyed. The judiciary appears to be feckless, and no one has been charged. Protestors are usually penned into an area nowhere near the target of protests, as at the national political conventions.
As a faculty member at the University of California, I can say that we're not going merrily along. It's tempting to think that a well-orchestrated event will get you what you want right away. But politics doesn't work like that. Germany, for example, just announced that it was phasing out nuclear power over a period of ten years. This is the result of activist efforts over 40 plus years.
David, I raise the same question everyday. What happened to the American spirit of 60s when people took to street. Do you see anyone who can organize and lead the march to Washington and protest against our so called leaders and do nothing congress?
No one would have picked out Martin Luther King as a great leader when he was a young minister just out of graduate school. And no one would have picked out Keli Carender, the Tea Party blogger, as a future leader before she emerged. There are always surprises on the horizon.
Remember, however, that King worked with well-established organizations and set up new ones. And Carendar now works for Tea Party Patriots. Organization matters.
Besides lack of organization? During the Bush administration, I would say fear of retribution and paranoia. The stories of infiltrated peace groups and library lists made the rounds and scared the bejeesus out of people. Maybe they won't arrest you, but maybe your employer won't like it too much. Now, I look at apathy. How do you fight against something that fights against itself? It almost doesn't matter which side you're on. The Tea Party looks loopy and the left can't get organized. Look at the biggest rally last year - a rally for sanity.
The rally for sanity expressed some dissatisfaction and some entertainment. But it wasn't part of a sustained campaign to change the world. Glenn Beck's rally was similar in that way, although apparently less entertaining.
Americans have been brainwashed. In the face of insane political leadership or lack thereof, they have just come to the realization that it doesn't matter if they vote,: 'The fix is in.' Maybe there will be a new vehicle, perhaps some social media widget that will be created to more accurately measure and forge grassroots consensus on candidates and issues, or we might riot or become revolutionary. For the present, I would consider it just the calm before the storm.
By the standards of rich democracies, our voter turnout is very low. By the standars of America, it's been going up in presidential elections, way higher than the normal 50 percent I'd been taught about in graduate school in political science just years earlier.
I think it's pretty easy to make a case that elections matter.
By voting Republicans, the Americans are voting people into office who don't believe in government. So why would they be protesting when they are getting what they want? More pertinently, do Americans know what they will be getting should the Republicans finally get to control the White House?
Republidans did better in the 2010 election than the Democrats, who did better in 2008--with a somewhat larger and more diverse pool of voters. I don't think most of those people, on either side, changed their minds. Obama voters, disappointed in the president or not, haven't signed onto the Republican platform. (And the Republicans who voted against Obama in the first place haven't made peace with him either.)
Unfortunately, the Tea Party has managed to own the nascent protest movement from its birth. The same thing is happening here as all over the world: middle class is getting gutted, incomes haven't kept up with inflation for decades, and enduring high unemployment. But with just the right amount of race-baiting, religious, and nationalistic appeal they've managed to control it and direct the movement toward parochial political interests.
I'm not sure who owns the Tea Party movement, although I can see who speaks for it on Capitol Hill. I don't see most of those at the grassroots signing onto that program.
Because we are a nation of sheep. We think someone else will fix everything. Most of us don't even vote, yet we complain incessantly on social media sites. As a nation, we don't rise up and face our issues as a nation but as ideologically driven individuals.
I don't see us as a nation of sheep, but I wonder how much these comment sections provide a kind of vicarious participation, which doesn't affect much, save our level of dissatisfaction. I worry that it encourages vitriol and intolerance, in a way that going to a meeting with neighbors whom we agree with only sometimes would not.
So, you think that the unemployed hooligan youth of America should start looting and burning? You actually think that looting and burning is an appropriate form of protest? That is absolutely disgusting. Protest? yes March? absolutely. But condone theft, destruction of property, murder and rape? Shame on you.
No fan of riots here. I'm not sure how you got that out of what I wrote.
I have been struck repeatedly by the same question and the answer to my mind is conformity. This is a bourgeois society and even among those who are not bourgeois the values are bourgeois values - don't rock the boat, dissent (as in massive civil disobedience) is not for "regular" people, is unpatriotic and so on. Also internalized is guilt and shame: the system "works" for so many people. If it doesn't work for me, there is something wrong with me. When the system loses its legitimacy (and that's a long way away), then the real protests will begin. What do you think?
I think people organize when they think they can make a difference--regardless of how objectively bad things get. Organizers work to instill a sense of efficacy. I'm reluctant to assign a psychological state to a broad population or generation. I think there are lots of different moods out there.
I am a middle class white college educated middle aged male. I am angry that the government wants to change the way they plan my retirement, I have played the games since the 1960"s. Been told that there needed to be affirmative action and class of protected folks. So they have been protected from me. Now I want what I paid into that same trusting system for 40 years... Why should I accept less. Do I need to keep giving? Is this some kind of government joke? What should we do. Protest and lose what ever is left of our crappy careers? What?
I can't for the life of me understand why you should accept cuts in the retirement system you paid into or a substantially worse health plan than your parents have in their retirement.
I don't see how minorities are responsible for those cuts that other people are proposing. They don't, mostly, vote for the people who do.
Protesting is what created the Tea Party. The problem is Congress and the Administrative state. At my federal agency I have three levels of managers before we reach a decisionmaker...and I'm an attorney. We're also glued to our computer screens so part of our anger gets vented typing into the comment section. Finally, we're too busy trying to hold on to our jobs as we're buried in student loan debt to risk losing our jobs protesting. We need student loan forgiveness more than we need homeowners bailed out. We protested globalization in Seattle and DC and the politicians didn't listen. We protested at the 2000 and 1968 Democratic conventions and we got beaten by police. What's the point, the system is broken beyond repair.
The student loan debt is horrific, and I understand why you're concerned. The average student who takes loans graduates with more than $23,000 in debt, often at high interest, but I've met young people with BAs and more than twice that in debt.
In our last "Sputnik" moment, in 1957, our elected officials invested in education, providing support for schools and heavily subsidized loans. Why couldn't that happen again? (By the way, the top tax rate was much higher, and the president was a Republican.)
In the runup to the senseless Iraq war, I protested. I wrote letters. I called my representatives. I begged. The protests went unreported and the letters went unanswered and, I believe, unread. The Mainstream Media were beating the war drums. Do you believe that Americans on the left have learned that their protests are useless because the corporate-controlled will suppress them? Our voices are heard in the polls, anonymously, but the crazy pronouncements of the extremists seem to be so much more interesting.
Just because you don't get what you want, it doesn't mean you don't matter. The protests in the streets sent the Bush Administration to the UN and changed targeting strategies to lessen civilian casualties. That sure doesn't seem like enough, but it's not nothing.
People protest when they think they will matter. It's neither helpful nor honest to neglect the less than full victories that movements generally win.
September 11 may be a defining moment for today's generation. I wonder if this helps explain why people aren't protesting. I worked in a government building where bomb scares and threats of violence were so common that offices hardly reacted when people made these threats. Today, people don't make these threats, in part because people realize they will be taken seriously as threats and not as the anger they used to mean. Do you believe that anger has become more respectful of not crossing certain lines since the terrorist attacks on September 11?
No. When I saw the campaigns against siting the Islamic center in lower Manhattan and saw a video of a protester spitting at a member of Congress, I didn't imagine a new culture of civility or restraint in America.
Maybe it looks like nobody protests because the press doesn't cover it unless someone's dressed up as a founding father. I've lived in DC my entire life, and there's always big groups staging marches and protests. Sometimes they number in the tens of thousands or more. But there's rarely press coverage of it, never really more than a ten second soundbite on the evening news. Between the first 9/12 rally and the Comedy Central thing last year, there were easily a half dozen protests and marches where the number of participants ranged from 30k to over 100k, but there was barely any coverage at all. I do wonder if there are protests at statehouses around the country that simply don't get covered--if Wisconsin started out as a normal, average thing that turned into a huge deal due to press coverage, while protests in other states went under-reported.
I wonder about this too. Our mainstream media are covering less with fewer staff, and activists have all kinds of other ways to get their messages out. This means it's easy to avoid seeing what you don't want to see or don't look for. Uncovering what activism IS going on at the grassroots across America is an important--and very difficult--job. Who's going to do it?
I think it's to our citizens' great credit that we do not go out to rampage through the streets, but rely on voting instead (and yes, I always vote). What did international protests really accomplish? In Egypt, they forced out an aging dictator, but it was accompanied by deaths, and sexual violence against women. In England, businesses were burned, people living above those businesses lost everything, and three innocent men trying to protect their neighborhood died. Why do you gloss over the damage done to ordinary people in these protests?
I never want to gloss over the damage that people do to each other. At the same time, it's a mistake to forget the damage that unjust policies do on a daily basis. We don't get government action without a strong push that extends beyond the boundaries of electoral campaigns. This doesn't mean that harm to individuals is canceled out by a greater social good, but it does mean that people have to take risks to make the world better.
Years later, I'm inclined to respect those who take on that risk themselves and to reject those who are willing to impose the costs of violence on others (e.g., Timothy McVeigh).
In a country where you don't have to work(welfare), get free food(food banks), free top notch education! What should we protest! I know.....we give away too much and don't make anyone work for anything anymore!
Really? America has the stingiest safety net of any rich country. Our public education system (K-12) underperforms almost all other rich countries. Our universities cost much more.
And every other rich country provides health coverage to its citizens. We spend twice what anyone else spends on health care and get poorer outcomes.
How great is that?
Why not mention the WARS? And what do you mean about the Federal Government "that seems unable to do anything about all of this." As a matter of fact it has. What it's done has been insufficient, largely ineffective and sometimes well enough harmful. I've been asking the "why aren't people, particularly the young people, taking to the streets" question for many years. It remains a good question.
The Wars! Fighting two wars with deficit spending is surely a big part of our budget problem. Activists around the world protested against going into Iraq and ousting the tyrannical Saddam Hussein. They affected policy, but they lost. The Bush administration said the war would be essentially cost-free (really!). Is there a penalty for premature prescience?
Maybe we can't visualize what the term "organization" means. A commenter yesterday said someone like, "When the free buses stopped, so did the protests.". If a group with funds is helping organize, how is that different from so-called Astroturfing? How do people with jobs and kids and baseball practice get out there? How do we avoid being associated with "those wackos over there?". We're just "middle-class" people--This is how we think. Is that the obstacle?
Astroturf is a name we call the people we don't like. At the same time, it's worth looking at who is putting money into what causes. You can't buy a movement, but long time investment in infrastructure and activists makes it easier to recruit when opportunities arise.
You call out the Tea Parties and the Koch Brothers, but you fail to mention Soros and the Unions. At all the town hall meetings, most violence came from union-supported thugs, not Tea Partiers. I know that doesn't square with your beliefs, but the facts are the facts. Most of the ruckus at these events were started by purple-shirted and red-shirted hooligans who were hiding behind the Union label. It's a shame that you're too myopic to look beyond your set beliefs to understand the real world.
Actually, I did mention the unions in the Madison campaign, both locally and nationally.
Soros invests his money in his beliefs, like the Koch brothers, but he's not secretive about those beliefs. He writes and publishes books and articles with his name on them. He also invests in causes internationally, like the democracy campaigns in Eastern Europe. I don't think the Koch Brothers have done the same.
And, as near as I can tell, Soros's politics doesn't pay dividends to his business, currency speculation. You can show me otherwise.
You correctly write, "In our last "Sputnik" moment, in 1957, our elected officials invested in education, providing support for schools and heavily subsidized loans." What motivated that change was framing the need for better-supported education as "national security" issue. Perhaps matters like education need once again to be viewed as a "national security" issue (9/11 didn't do the trick, though).
I'm completely on board with this. An educated populace is essential for democracy to work, and we've come to accept less and less for most of our children.
I have imagined, and written about, an alternative response to 9/11, where we invest in education, emergency health care responsiveness, and transportation infrastructure--all challenged by the attacks. And why aren't we training more young Americans in languages so that our intelligence could be better?
Aren't a lot of them organized through churches, religious-based or quasi-religious organizations?
On the left as well. I was noting that the Bishops in Alabama made a statement against a harsh anti-immigration law.