Your opinion doesn’t matter—not by itself. No matter how heartfelt or important to you personally, your thoughts about Gaza or legal weed or the war on skinny jeans don’t mean anything merely because they reside inside your brain.
Your opinion matters only if you express it. Expression of an opinion doesn’t change anything unless it’s done effectively. Opinions expressed en masse, alongside others who share your views, are more likely to effect change—but that’s not enough to move the needle. What changes policy, what improves lives for the foreseeable future, what makes history on a radical scale, is a sustained mass movement that expresses an opinion so aggressively that the ruling classes are forced to change course or risk losing their power and privilege to revolutionary overthrow.
American liberals and leftists have strong opinions on a variety of issues. But they express them on the couch or online rather than in the streets, where it matters. On the rare occasion when we venture into the public sphere, our protests are usually sporadic and unsustained, like the annual anti-Trump women’s marches with the pink pussy hats or militantly nonviolent, like the antiwar protests leading up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Neither had any effect. Leftie demonstrations rarely assume the dangerous character required to scare the powers that be: violent, or nonviolent while brandishing a credible threat of violence.
Last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were an exception, continuing every day for well over 100 consecutive days in over 500 cities, involving between 7 and 22 million people. Though mostly nonviolent, BLM demonstrations featured sufficient property damage and violence to lend the peaceful events a menacing swagger. Which is why BLM was effective.
Racist and brutal police are still a big problem. But BLM moved the ball down the field more than anyone would have expected previously. Defunding the police went from fringe to mainstream with cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco actually moving millions of dollars in their budgets. Chokeholds have been banned in dozens of cities. Confederate statues, the Stars and Bars at NASCAR, the names of sports teams and products whose names invoke the legacy of racism are biting the dust. Equity has become a policy priority for public educators.
Liberals, progressives and leftists should take note of BLM’s successes and emulate their tactics for other causes. It’s time to relearn the lessons of the 1960s. Street activism works when it’s sustained—and a little dangerous.
For the first time in memory a majority of Democratic voters tell pollsters they support the Palestinians in their struggle against apartheid in Israel and the brutal occupation and theft of land in the Palestinian Territories. Nice to see. But your disgust at the Israeli bombing of Gaza can’t be enough to help the Palestinians or pressure Congress to cut off the $4 billion in aid Israel receives each year from U.S. taxpayers. You have to fight for it.
68% of voters want to add a public option to Obamacare. (And 55% want Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All.) The public option was one of Biden’s campaign promises but now he’s reneging. Two out of three voters is a big number, but Democrats won’t have to make good on their promises as long as we sit on our asses at home.
63% of Americans say they want the minimum wage to go up to $15-an-hour immediately. Yet Democrats haven’t even announced a bill for their watered-down, half-hearted proposal to scale up to $15 by 2025. Biden and the Democrats talk to big-business donors and lobbyists, not you and me. Public opinion doesn’t matter by itself.
Want the U.S. to use its enormous military and financial influence over Israel to force movement toward a two-state solution that emancipates the people of Palestine? Get out into the streets. Stay there. Be militant. Don’t stop until you get results.
Want Congress to finally get serious about America’s insane for-profit healthcare system so that anyone who’s sick can see a doctor? Fill the streets of hundreds of cities for months at a time and refuse to leave until the corrupt fools in Washington see reason and let us join the numerous other nations who provide for their people’s basic needs.
Want a living wage for anyone who puts in a full day’s work? Don’t just think it—do it. Go out there, confront the cops, refuse to be cowed, make everything stop until employers are forced to do the right thing.
Last year’s BLM protests were fueled in size and intensity by the COVID-19 lockdown and high unemployment. Now that workplaces, schools and entertainment venues are reopening, it’s tempting to return to the ad-hoc passive activism of the pre-pandemic era. But wimpy succumbing to “free speech” zones to express grievances on the occasional Saturday or Sunday didn’t work then and it won’t work now. We need to rock the streets every day, hard, like it’s 2020 or 1968.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
I’ll flag “American liberals and leftists have strong opinions on a variety of issues.” I think, yes, they strongly feel that they deserve the best of everything and everyone else should just shut up. But most of the liberals I know are hard-right of center when it comes to the concept of genuine fairness or anything even remotely like true economic justice. They like that the system is rigged to favor them, and they — just like the Republicans — aren’t going to vote away their influence.
Hi Ted. Yes, absolutely. But, out of curisotity: There’s this tricky piece related to scale that we all avoid, either intentionally or not. I think you’ll agree that my individual action is not much more likely to make a significant difference (perhaps not even a measureable difference most of the time) regardless of whether I go to a protest or take the action of sitting on the couch and opining. Yes? It’s the mass movement that counts, and that’s happening at a different scale that the vast majority of us have almost zero influence over. It seems to me that it makes sense to skip that–essentially the collective action problem–and handle it as you have here, if you have any significant audience…as your column has but I bet this comment doesn’t. I’d be interested in your thoughts.