The Efficacy Of Protest

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PUBLISHED IN THE CABRILLO VOICE, MARCH, 2017

On December 8, 2017, 200 concerned community members filled Cabrillo’s room 450, to participate in a forum discussing the recent election and it’s aftermath. Helping to organize the event were Cabrillo teachers Michael Mangin, 61, and Nick Rowell, 34.

According to Rowell, the most amazing part of the forum was that the room was filled. He has been noticing that people are more active now than they have been in a while, that his students are more interested in politics than ever before.

In light of recent movements such as the Standing Rock Protest and the Women’s March, the Voice sat with Rowell and Mangin to discuss the actual power these protests can have in affecting change.

“Popular agitation can either appeal to the self interest of the capitalists who want to keep their workers happy enough to keep working, or it can appeal to their morality,” explained Mangin. But what effect can demonstration have if politics seems unconcerned with moral imbalances?

Rowell has been a Political Science professor at Cabrillo for three years, and has a research background in Latin American politics and religious protests. He argued that the most real and reliable effect of protest is actually on the protestors themselves, for the feeling of community and solidarity. As for a political effect, he said that there must first be a political opportunity.

Rowell feels that our current Executive branch holds no political opportunity, that it lies instead with elected officials further down the line. As public approval decreases for Executive policies, other officials will want to distance themselves from his policies in order to preserve the affection of their voters.

“The arrival of mass democratic suffrage…gives rise to a different kind of politics that has to have some basis in popular support,” said Mangin, describing a shift that occurred in politics as more people gained voting rights. “That’s a new power that people have. Most politicians are motivated by re-election.” However, more and more Americans are relinquishing that power, to the point where only 55% of those who can vote do.

Rowell agrees in the power of a voter force, and that voter cynicism is a big threat to our system. He reminded voters to vote down the ballot, not just for the Presidential race. “If the constituents are out there in the streets, and a real electoral threat, or a real power they need to deal with, (politicians) will vote however they have to,” said Mangin. “If there could be a populist marshaling of that energy, it could still have that kind of impact.”

The effects of demonstration can depend on political climate, size of the demonstration, and especially nowadays on media coverage. “It’s important that it gets out there,” said Mangin. That’s why martin Luther King Jr. broke segregation laws. “When the press covers the picture of him in jail, that’s when it really gets power,” explained Mangin. “Part of his credibility was his nonviolence. Folks that were talking more about violence didn’t get a lot of hearing.”

Rowell explained that the most effective forms of protest are those that show the most commitment. While everyone won’t go out to the streets to demonstrate, a written letter and a phone call hold more weight than an email or an electronic petition. It is also important that the demonstration builds support, rather than alienating the community by making their lives harder.

Rowell recommended joining existing organizations, as democracy is about groups of people, not individuals. He also suggested learning the details of government, such as who decides which issues, and running for local office as a way to learn the political process.

Those who attended the December 8th forum left with ideas of things to do and organizations to join in the face of troubling policies and changes coming down the line. Mangin plans to host another forum soon. The date is not set, but it will be posted on the Cabrillo webpage.

In closing, Mangin spoke to the light side of our current situation. “Where I am now is hopeful that this energy that’s got a lot of different pieces to it, that I think has a generational feel to it, I think it has potential to really be a unifying counter-claim of identity.”

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