A Tactical Suggestion for Future Demonstrations

Attack [the enemy] where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

Whether it’s IMF meetings, trade meetings, or political conventions, elites know demonstrators will be there, and elites are prepared. Cops, tear gas, chain-link fences, and concrete barricades are just a few of the defenses they employ to keep demonstrators at bay — defenses backed up by media outlets that are only too happy to keep to the corporate storyline, rendering protests invisible.

It’s natural for protesters to initially think demonstrating at such elite gatherings is thing to do. After all, that’s where the elites are; that’s where the action is. But the high level of defensive preparation the rich and powerful bring to bear at such events argues for a different strategy.

[T]he victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.”

So, the next time a large demonstration is planned, I have a suggestion: Ignore (physically, that is) the event being protested. Instead, pick softer targets: Media outlets.

Such a plan would address two problems: It would bypass the cops and the barricades, and it would also make it incredibly difficult for the media to ignore protests. And even if the police know such protests are coming, they can’t protect all media outlets.

Is there anyone on the left who doesn’t agree the media is part of the problem? If virtually all of us believe this, then why do we keep giving them a free pass? Instead, we should directly target TV stations and newspapers. There is no issue – war, health care, the economy, the environment – that couldn’t accommodate such a strategy. In fact, I would say such a strategy is demanded regardless of the underlying issue.

Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

Further, I believe such a strategy would yield a greater chance of success. When, say, a political convention is targeted, what is the goal? To change policies under discussion? If that’s the goal, how attainable is it? What would make it more attainable? I don’t know what a sufficient condition for its attainability is, but I know what a necessary condition is: increased public awareness of the issues elites are discussing inside.

Now, suppose it’s media outlets being targeted, as I am proposing. Now what’s the goal? I don’t know, but if it’s a left-wing goal, I’m pretty sure it has the same necessary condition. To put all this another way, no matter what the left hopes to accomplish, it’s going to need massive public awareness and support to do it. If the media won’t provide that awareness to the public, then we should make them. Everything else is, I would suggest, wheel spinning. Even if it’s not, it’s certainly rendered far less effective thanks to the anesthetizing power of the press. So let’s sap that power.

You cannot stop innovation.”

  • The quotes in this article are all from Sun Tzu’s 6th-century-B.C. text The Art of War.
  • Eric Patton lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. He can be reached via e-mail at: ebpatton@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.

    33 comments on this article so far ...

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    1. bozhidar balkas said on August 30th, 2008 at 6:14am #

      i do not believe that media is part of the problem; i know media is not only part of the problem but also in forefront on assualt against the working class and other oppressed people.
      we need also to target churches and middle class. if pious and middle class people persist in making it a living hell for pals, iraqis, and pashtuns then let us tell them that.
      thank u

    2. Max Shields said on August 30th, 2008 at 8:53am #

      It should be clear 1) who the power elite is 2) they will NEVER let 1968 (symbolically and literally) happen again.

      To use such tactics is to INSIST on NOT being taken seriously.

      The power elite have thorough infiltrated and diluted any semblance of an Amerikan progressive movement.

      I applaud Eric’s attempt to think smart and strategically.

    3. Donald Hawkins said on August 30th, 2008 at 10:53am #

      Worth a try and a good way to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

    4. rosemarie jackowski said on August 30th, 2008 at 12:39pm #

      As Ward Churchill says, “…all of those things are allowed by those in power, and none of those things that are allowed by those in power will ever stop the killing…”

      Wall Street, the weapons manufacturers, the health insurance corporations, the electronic and print media, and ALL who are employees of such need to have their consciousness raised ‘by any means necessary’.

      Save a life. Prevent a CEO from going to work today.

    5. David said on August 30th, 2008 at 5:04pm #

      Good idea.

      Here’s another. Target the children and immediate relatives of the elite by picketing them where they go to school or where they work and socialize. If you can’t get to this group, go for the close personal friends of the elite and their children. You can find out who these people are by checking the social register and by who makes political contributions (fundrace.huffingtonpost.com) to whom. There are many ways to find them. Make your picketing very personal. Name names and events.

      Signage example targeted at Karl Rove’s mother outside of where her bridge club meets: “Mama Rove: Your son is a corrupt and sleazy liar.”

      Are you too soft to do this? (I can hear the bullshit cries about protecting the children now.)

      The elites have never hesitated to make war for profit and kill or blow the arms and legs off of the children of the poor and working class. The question is are you too weak to win this thing? So make your choices. Your kids or theirs. Your friends or theirs. Make life uncomfortable for them. Very uncomfortable.

    6. Calm said on August 31st, 2008 at 3:19am #

      The immigrant demonstations in 2006 showed everybody exactly what to do.

      Shut down cities!

      Each city where immigrants protested on the streets were causing huge financial loses to business. That is why the government changed it’s tune and began talking about “comprehensive” legislation.

      Find a highway, a roadway or a street and parade or walk at a slow pace and disrupt traffic and the movement of goods and commerce.

      Bring a city to it’s knees overnight.

      Also, 80% of goods move by railway …. find a railway in your city and shut it down.

      Calm

    7. Calm said on August 31st, 2008 at 3:25am #

      During the 60′s the protestors protested and burned or damged their own neighbourhoods.

      That was utter foolishness.

      They should of been in other more elite neighbourhoods and not their own.

      Calm

    8. Calm said on August 31st, 2008 at 3:34am #

      When protesting, everyone should be carrying a sign …..

      What is the insurance deductible on your front windows?

      Front Window Alert:
      (See Graphic)
      http://www.sendspace.com/file/3cg2o3

      Calm

    9. bozhidar balkas said on August 31st, 2008 at 11:00am #

      no, people who approve of wars, will not be persuaded to becomw antiwar by any annoyance whatsoever.
      it may be better to parade with signs by the megastores, stores, churches.
      let’s leave some people in peace. thank u

    10. rosemarie jackowski said on August 31st, 2008 at 11:55am #

      On the first day of the “Shock and Awe” bombing, I was arrested for carrying a sign. My action did not save the life of one Iraqi child. If you want to end the war, you have to be more creative than that. I suggest disruptions of commerce. No more business as usual.

    11. rosemarie jackowski said on August 31st, 2008 at 12:00pm #

      P.S. Remember that the ultimate responsibility falls upon the voters who continue to elect pro-war candidates. 90% + will vote for a Repub/dem in the upcoming election. The voters have the power to elect State Attorneys General and County Prosecutors. All 1000 of them have the authority to Indict Bush/Cheney. The case has been laid out by Vincent Bugliosi. Make a visit to your county Prosecutor tomorrow. Plan a demonstration there and throw out any one of them who will not Indict. (I am the LU candidate for Vermont Attorney General.)

    12. bozhidar balkas said on August 31st, 2008 at 1:32pm #

      rosemary,
      yes, 90% will vote for the two wings of one goose.
      but the second party is on its way. this is fantastic success for working class.
      in time, it may become stronger. right uncle is not a bit worried but he may get excited if the second party gets 20-30% of the votes. thanx

    13. Donald Hawkins said on August 31st, 2008 at 4:22pm #

      Today mayor Nagin of New Orleans said get your butt out of the city he got that part right. He also said this real is the storm of the century. He got that part very wrong. This is not the storm of the century as every year these storms will get stronger a little stronger and more storms not every year but on average more. I see Fox News called this the storm of the century. Probably a good idea for the people who will be on this Planet in the next 20 years and even the older folks to get stronger.

    14. AJ Nasreddin said on September 1st, 2008 at 3:54am #

      Years ago I was in a protest of the kind that Eric describes. We had the idea of going direct to the media. Unfortunately, the media was not interested in covering itself. Moreover, protesting on private property can easily land you in jail, where you will become an afterthought – unless your numbers are really huge.

      You ought to understand the beast. The media are after a story. If you can’t give them a story, then you’ll get no media attention. At the least, advertise your cause – billboards on busy highways do have an impact. Take out a commercial on a major network during primetime. Too expensive? Standing in the middle of a busy downtown street during morning rush hour will get you on the six o’clock news. If you can’t create a story, the media don’t care.

      This is precisely why people need to protest at G8 meetings. The protesters, police, teargas, clashes, blood – these are the exciting things that get media attention.

      If you carry a sign – why not have a web site address where people can get more information.

    15. john andrews said on September 1st, 2008 at 4:14am #

      Although the media are definitely a huge part of the problem, I don’t think protesting at their outlets would be very effective. The problems with that tactic are:

      1. It divides your forces, making you confront the enemy on numerous fronts.

      2. There is no guarantee that the media will give the protest any more coverage simply because it happens to be at their front door. Indeed, once it tumbles to the fact that this is the aim it may ignore it altogether.

      3. It is more difficult to organise and coordinate effectively.

      Calm made some good points. Disruptions of commerce hurt, more, I think than anything else short of physical violence (to which, fortunately, we are still a long way from needing to resort)

    16. Giorgio said on September 1st, 2008 at 4:28am #

      Great idea!…and what about those who do the killing themselves?
      If you got a soldier friend in Iraq why not send him an email/letter telling him that he’s the pawn of a murderous regime and if he kills he’s no hero but just a murderous thug. And if he gets killed in the process, you won’t even bother to go to his funeral. He got his just deserts….
      Instead of pandering to the military, rather let them know that they brainless killing machines!

    17. Calm said on September 1st, 2008 at 5:58am #

      Media attention really means getting the public’s attention.

      Well, if you shut down the downtown area of a city or the main traffic lanes entering the city, you have the attention of all the commuters …. all the public attention you want.

      You don’t need the media to tell those people caught up in traffic jams or to have retail outlets unable to stock their shelves that there is discontent or a problem in their midst.

      A protest “off the sidewalk” and into the street will have the message quite well known to those affected.

      I never understood why people don’t use violence to make their point.

      Our government does it all the time. When you look at the the history of America and all the violence they have perpetrated around the world during the past 250 years …. it would be quite clear that our leaders know that violence is the only way to gain what you want or feel you need.

      The Rich Folks in America are running scared! The Partiot Act is for the protection of the Rich Folks because they don’t want a Hitler-Trip to happen in America.

      I think the media has sold us a “conscience” while at the same time knowing that “conscience” is just a figment of of a useless imagination.

      The media is broadcasting “Religious” themed shows because the establishment is trying to sell the Poor Folks a conscience

      As the Rich Folks walked by the Poor Homeless person upon the street during past years …. the Rich Folks don’t want the Poor Folks walking by them as they are strung-up on lamp posts out behind some gas station.

      The only reason Hitler came to power was because of the depression of the 1930’s.

      Poor Folks in Europe suffered alot more then the Poor Folks in North America. The Poor Folks in Europe watched the Rich Folks flaunt their wealth during the Roaring 20’s …. and they remembered this as the Poor Folks were selling their family heirlooms in Pawnshops. It just so happened that a majority of the pawnshops were owned by Jewish Folks and Gypsies.

      Calm

    18. Eric Patton said on September 1st, 2008 at 6:10am #

      AJ Nasreddin writes:
      “Years ago I was in a protest of the kind that Eric describes. We had the idea of going direct to the media. Unfortunately, the media was not interested in covering itself. Moreover, protesting on private property can easily land you in jail, where you will become an afterthought – unless your numbers are really huge.”

      Well, yes, huge numbers. I mean, 100 people won’t get it done. But we have demonstrations of literally tens of thousands of people, and those demonstrations are barely mentioned in the media, and the mentions that do occur are hardly adequate. What if those tens of thousands people, instead of going to the event, went to a TV station?

      And if the private versus public property issue is a concern, why not go to a public TV station? You might still get arrested, but you’d certainly have grounds to ask just who owns public TV stations anyway. And if you do have only 100 people and you’re planning a demonstration, why not go to a PBS outlet?

    19. Calm said on September 1st, 2008 at 6:27am #

      A public TV station is on private property.

      Calm

    20. Steven Sherman said on September 1st, 2008 at 9:20am #

      Choose targets that illustrate the point you are trying to make. Choose tactics in line with the actual forces you can amass. As much as possible, create a situation where you will be portrayed as the good guys. Harassing the children of elites makes you sound like a creep (because you are). Targeting the media, unless over something specific, tends to render protests unfocused. So you don’t like the media. Lots of people don’t like the media, for lots of reasons. What sorts of changes are you actually proposing? Will anyone find out?

      Ditto shutting down city streets. Most people sitting in cars just want the police to clear out protesters so they can get to work. If you turn the people in cars against you, who do you imagine is on your side? Protesters at the Democratic convention got minimal attention, in good part because it wasn’t a very large group of people, and, fortunately, I think, they didn’t do anything really stupid or provocative to get attention. Maybe they would have done better to focus very directly on weaknesses of Obama. For example, the war in Afghanistan should’ve been the focus of the anti-war march, since Obama has more or less signaled that he wants out of Iraq, but he is firmly for escalating the war in Afghanistan. Obama’s failure to support single-payer health care is another failure that could have been the focus of protests. But very few people in the US care if a few thousand protesters who look like protesters at all the other conventions show up to sneer at the Democrats for being dominated by corporations. It hardly matters whether they march on the convention center or the local newspaper.

    21. Eric Patton said on September 1st, 2008 at 9:20am #

      Calm writes:
      “I never understood why people don’t use violence to make their point.”

      This is virtually never the correct tactic in the United States, or other first-world societies. (An exception might be, say, union workers trying to prevent scabs from crossing a picket line. There, some low-level violence might be justified.) You can’t out-violence the state, and trying to do so will win you nothing.

      “A public TV station is on private property.”

      Even if this is true, legally so are broadcast signals. Activists fight for those. Why not public stations as well?

      This is all getting beyond the scope of my original essay though.

    22. Calm said on September 1st, 2008 at 9:30am #

      First of all ….

      I’m really enjoying the discussion goin’ on here. Your the kind of people I would appreciate in my forum. Nobody screamin’ and callin’ each other idiots.

      When I mention violence, I don’t mean violence against a person. I’m thinking of property damage. Like walking down the street and scraping the paint on every BMW yuh see.

      When garbage or public transit workers go on strike for better wages, I don’t think we begin to hate the strikers. We get angry and call city hall and demand that they negotiate in good faith to settle the issue.

      The public might become agitated, but I think that the polls would tell us that 75 percent of them are already pissed off at the government and would admire those doin’ something about it.

      Calm

    23. Eric Patton said on September 1st, 2008 at 9:33am #

      Steven Sherman writes:
      “As much as possible, create a situation where you will be portrayed as the good guys.”

      But we already know the media will not willingly do this.

      “It hardly matters whether they march on the convention center or the local newspaper.”

      I don’t know how many protesters were in Denver. Just for purposes of discussion, let’s say it was 2000. Suppose they all went to the studios of one of Denver’s public TV stations (I don’t know how many such stations Denver has). Suppose they all went there to specifically protest Obama’s failure to support single-payer, or perhaps they picked three issues like single-payer, Iraq, and the PBS’s poor coverage. Or whatever.

      Wouldn’t 2000 people in that situation make for a more effective protest than 2000 people standing in front of riot cops and TV cameras looking solely to film violence they can blame on demonstrators? Yes, technically that could happen outside public TV offices as well. But I am arguing for making the media an intrinsic part of what’s being protested. I don’t see how you do that without going to the media outlets to protest.

      In other words, I think you can protest, say, Obama’s lack of single-payer support and media dissembling by going to the media. But I don’t see how you protest both of those things by only protesting at the DNC. And I don’t the left is as effective as it could be unless it makes the media an intrinsic part of what it’s protesting.

      “What sorts of changes are you actually proposing?”

      I am a pareconist. I think all organizations, including media-related ones, should be built on pareconish norms. A longer answer is really too long for a simple article comment.

    24. Eric Patton said on September 1st, 2008 at 9:43am #

      Calm writes:
      “When I mention violence, I don’t mean violence against a person. I’m thinking of property damage. Like walking down the street and scraping the paint on every BMW yuh see.”

      While I’m not sure I would do it myself, I couldn’t get too worked up if someone were breaking the windows of huge corporate offices, or some such. That said, would it be more likely or less likely to win public support from people currently unassociated with the movement? Personally, I think it would do more damage than it would help.

      Going after anything smaller, though, than a huge corporation would, I think, cause only negative repercussions. Even going after someone’s BMW, while a luxury sedan, is not, I don’t think, a good tactic. I think there would be too great a chance people would start to fear for their own Toyota Corollas (or whatever).

      “The public might become agitated, but I think that the polls would tell us that 75 percent of them are already pissed off at the government and would admire those doin’ something about it.”

      This is partly why I think going after media outlets directly would be a good idea. As you say, I think people are quite ready for massive social change. I think people are ready for a revolution. But the media are not going to help propel this process. In fact, they actively inhibit it. They are part of the problem. So I think they should be a target.

      And for, say, garbage workers who go on strike, I think said workers would have more power if they could compel the media to report honestly on the issues affecting them (the workers). So I think that, even for striking garbage workers, including the targeting of media outlets in their (the workers’) strategy is a good plan.

    25. Steven Sherman said on September 1st, 2008 at 9:57am #

      Eric–Protesting at media outlets does not guarantee that your message will get out the way you wish. Frequently it will result in your being labeled an opponent of free speech. There is no guarantee that your message will be sent out the way you want it to be. But thinking things through beforehand might help. Focusing on one or two demands, rather than amorphous complaining helps. Developing narratives that resonate with some people’s (who are outside the movement) everyday life helps. Cultivating allies inside media organizations helps. Producing your own media and developing ways to direct people to it helps. I’ve seen a few protests be well received and fairly covered in the media–for example, the original ‘camp casey’ protests of Cindy Sheehan. This doesn’t mean I think the media is an ally, just that coverage varies widely. I don’t think protesting at media outlets increases the chances that your message will be delivered in the way you hope. Quite the opposite.

      You say you are a pareconist. I happen to know what that means, unlike, probably, about 99.9% of the American public. If it is going to mean anything to them, it will have to build on their experiences in a meaningful way–for example, a demand for free speech rights in the workplace. Just a suggestion.

    26. Eric Patton said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:19am #

      Steven Sherman writes:
      “Protesting at media outlets does not guarantee that your message will get out the way you wish. Frequently it will result in your being labeled an opponent of free speech. There is no guarantee that your message will be sent out the way you want it to be.”

      Few things come with guarantees. Of course, any strategy carries risks.

      “But thinking things through beforehand might help.”

      That was the point of the article.

      “You say you are a pareconist. I happen to know what that means, unlike, probably, about 99.9% of the American public. If it is going to mean anything to them, it will have to build on their experiences in a meaningful way–for example, a demand for free speech rights in the workplace.”

      A treatment of parecon, or parecon-related strategies, was beyond the scope of the article.

    27. Calm said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:28am #

      I have no faith in the media. They are just the propaganda arm of the government. Maybe some small town paper might feel a sense of community, but not the big-time players.

      My understanding of the newspaper business is that if they told us the truth there would be riots in the streets. And people don’t buy newspapers during a riot …. they steal them. So, no newspaper is going to detail any truth.

      I only need to review how the media covered anti-war protests in 2003, or how the media is covering the recent arrests of protesters at the RNC trip in Minneapolis.

      My history is with unionism as a local union president. I believe that the “organization” of events or protests is far too difficult a task to perform. There are too many instances of infiltration by cops and the like.

      It is not safe to work as a group any more.

      People need to act in an “unorganized” fashion …. committing single acts of disobedience and not as a group …. each breaking one window a day or on a particular “decisive” or “agreed upon” day …. and at a place and time of day of their choosing.

      If 25 thousand people broke a window next Friday, as an example, it would not go unnoticed. It could be a car window or a store front window or the window of a house.

      25 thousand people getting up on a Friday morning and deliberately setting out on their own to make their statement.

      Calm

    28. bozhidar balkas said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:29am #

      to me, it is important that we do not annoy drivers in any way.
      violence of whatever kind shld not be used against anyone. even verbal violence will not get us anywhere.
      it is of utmost import that we do not mistreat children in any way.
      stand on the corners and distribute leaflets; most people will accept them. especially if you greet and smile at them.
      i’ve done it. it takes little money to print something educational. in vancouver bc we hold protests every year.
      we pick saturday and downtown.
      we have marshals; we sing, shout. we march when cops let us; we stop when cops give us OK.
      no window gets broken. thank u

    29. Eric Patton said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:32am #

      Calm, we just don’t agree on strategy, and I doubt we will.

    30. Calm said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:44am #

      I didn’t know what “pareconist” meant.

      So as not to be left out in the cold, I had to look it up.

      At the same time, every corporation has its own set of owners, human or otherwise, who have the right to do as they please with it, as people outside a corporation do not have any right to interfere with its activities while it abides by the law. Although market economists note that all consumers can influence corporations through their own market interactions, or the buying and selling of their goods, services, or even shares, advocates of parecon are unsatisfied with this as this influence has a limited extension, and organization of collective consumer action is difficult in a market economy. Pareconists believe that the state is unlikely to interfere in the market for the benefit of the public, and advocates interpret economic history as demonstrating that it is more often the other way around, through means of plutocracy. Being huge agglomerations of economic power, large corporations tend to interfere with the decision-making of states by lobbying for legislation and policy that suits their interests or, in many cases, by bribery, or by financing huge propaganda campaigns for the success of some political candidate who would support the corporation’s interests. An example included the corporate slogan “what is good for General Motors is good for America.” In some cases, there have been corporate-backed coups. However, Milton Friedman believes that such corporate lobbying is only possible in states that allow for significant state interference within the economy.

      Promoters of parecon hold that the pursuit of private profit and power by these kinds of corporations is not in the interest of the majority of citizens.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_economics

    31. Calm said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:47am #

      Hi! Eric Patton

      Well, it seems that the type of protest you encourage has been practised since at least 1960, and we are still in the same boat as we were 50 years ago!

      Obviously; it don’t work.

      I would think that after 50 or 60 years, one might conclude that it is time to change strategies.

      Calm

    32. Eric Patton said on September 1st, 2008 at 11:58am #

      Calm writes:
      “Well, it seems that the type of protest you encourage has been practised since at least 1960, and we are still in the same boat as we were 50 years ago!”

      I would recommend Michael Albert’s “Trajectory of Change” (South End Press, 2002).

      For more on parecon, I would recommend Albert’s “Parecon: Life After Capitalism” (Verso Press, 2003), the full text of which can also be found here: http://www.zcommunications.org/zparecon/pareconlac.htm. Also good for parecon is http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/topics/parecon.

    33. Calm said on September 1st, 2008 at 2:05pm #

      Hi! Eric Patton

      Okay …. I’ll read that e-book.

      I tried to grab it off UseNet as a PDF because I find it easier to read, but it was not available. So, I just finished copy/pasting the text into a Word Document via the URL you referenced above.

      I don’t read economic “theory” books, but rather economic “complaint” books.

      Books like these:

      Outsourcing America
      What’s Behind Our National Crisis and How We Can Reclaim American Jobs
      By Ron Hira and Anil Hira
      May 30, 2005
      http://www.amazon.com/Outsourcing-America-National-Reclaim-American/dp/0814408680

      Encyclopedia of White-Collar & Corporate Crime
      By Lawrence M. Salinger
      August 03, 2004
      http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-White-Collar-Corporate-Crime-Multi/dp/0761930043

      Keep Smilin’ and don’t let your mouse byte yuh!

      Calm