Mass Protests


Post by Gabe Condon

The theorists we have studied thus far all seem to emphasize that the true power lies within the masses (the people).  Marx argues that the proletariat must break out of from under the power of the bourgeoisie.  Weber tells us how the Protestants took power collectively by individually having the Protestant ethic.  However, both theorists, in different ways acknowledge that there are other sources of power operating in society than those which come directly from the people themselves.  Marx’s idea of systemic power is very important in the pre-communist stages of society.  In fact, it represents a power that controls everything.  To get rid of this power, the entire economic and social system needs to be completely overturned.  Weber, while acknowledging that it is the people with the protestant ethic who create their own position of power, also puts God in a position of power, as he is the drive for all of the people’s activities.  Furthermore, Weber cites the power that replaces God as society has evolved.  This power is similar to Marx’s systemic power.  It is the “iron cage” that the people have created for themselves that generates this sense of meaninglessness.  This leads to the class stratification and exploitation that both theorists argue occurs in the capitalist system.

It seems like the most principal consequence of this social evolution is the separation of the upper class and the middle/lower classes.  Marx explains how, for the bourgeoisie to make a profit, they must exploit the proletariat, which only expands this class divide.  I believe that this concept is evident in the ineffectiveness of mass protests today.  The separation of people in power from those who are not in power is what makes most protests, pickets, walks, and strikes completely ineffective.  This is because the people who are doing the protesting are usually not in power.  If they were, they could just change the laws themselves.  These mass protests are, in effect, a plea from the masses to those people in power.  These kinds of protests are never guaranteed to have an effect.  The only way that a group of the underclass could guarantee a consequence is to have some leverage or some way of assuming power.

This is largely the reason why the marches protesting the war in Iraq were very ineffective.  The people did not have any leverage on the government.  They could walk all they wanted, but until the people assumed some power, no change would be made.  And little change was made.  This growing stratification of classes can also account for the relative effectiveness of protests in the past, say in the 1960’s, as compared to today.  The classes have recently become so separated that they do not listen to one another as they once did.  The people in power simply do not care if a few people from the lower class walk on Washington.  The government officials do not feel threatened by them and the upper/middle classes, while feeling slightly sympathetic, do not care enough to actually do anything.  They are living comfortably, so why should they make the effort to change something that will not affect them?  This is one of the key consequences of this class division; many people are living in comfort while some are living in terribly dire conditions.  The classes do not relate to each other and act solely in their own interest.  This is a major change that has happened in recent years which I believe has contributed to the ineffectiveness of mass protests.

Besides these overarching social changes, there are other related changes in our society that I think have also recently made mass protests ineffective.   Changes in technology and media that have occurred in the past few decades have contributed to this.  There is a huge emphasis on money, aesthetic value, comfort, and laziness in the media these days that seems to be especially targeted toward the upper-middle class.  This creates the attitude that I mentioned above; “why should I help you change if I’m not experiencing any hardship?”  Another cause that I see is the expansion of the number of special interests in today’s society.  There are so many different causes that there are not enough people to support them to make it effective.  So many of these interests are so specialized that they can only pertain to a small group of people.  Besides only being able to gather a small following to begin with, theses special interest groups turn many people away from joining causes in general, just because of their ineffectiveness.  As you can probably imagine, this creates a cycle of less and less people joining interest groups, leading to less effective protests.

To anyone who has read just read this, feel free to post about what reasons you think there are for the decreased effectiveness of mass protests, particularly in the past 40 years or so.


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