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Do protest marches and rallies do much good? What are the alternatives?

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Progressives love going to rallies and protest marches.

There are rallies and marches about health care reform, war, torture, gay rights, abortion rights, and so on.

But are rallies and marches of much use?

They're sort of fun. They make you feel like you're part of a movement. They cathartic. In solidarity with your comrades, you get to thumb your nose at the corrupt enemy.

But the news media typically don't bother covering them. Or if they do cover them, they often give equal or greater coverage to the counter-rally.

For example, on Sept 4, 2009, there was a rally for health care reform, in honor of Ted Kennedy, in Seattle at Westlake Park. Organizers included Congressman Jim McDermott, Organizing for America, Health Care for America NOW, SEIU, UFCW 21, the Washington State Labor Council, WashPIRG, and Planned Parenthood Votes. About three thousand people participated. Yet as reported here in this article in the Huffington Post, the rally was pretty much ignored by the mainstream news media. The Seattle Times gave no coverage. A google search turns up very little about the rally. Seattle Weekly covered it in their blog. Interestingly, a bing search on the same query (rally "healh care" "westlake park" seattle september) turns up several pages of hits, almost all of them on progressive, alternative blogs and websites.

I recall a pro-choice rally in D.C. attended by hundreds of thousands of people. I remember that the front-page coverage in my local newspaper showed an anti-abortion protester in the foreground standing with her sign as the pro-choice protesters marched behind her.

Another example. A couple of years ago President Bush came to my hometown for a fundraiser for our Republican congressman, Dave Reichert. There were several thousand protesters (including a bunch of scary-looking anarchists who made the rest of us look bad). There were also a few dozen counter-protesters. While at the rally, I saw several journalists interviewing counter-protesters. The local newspapers gave equal coverage to the counter-protesters, and in fact, most of the newspaper coverage, in both local newspapers, consisted of photos of the President getting off the plane, shaking hands with the congressmen, etc.

I spoke with a reporter at one of the newspapers. He said that the photography department decided that the President's photos would generate the most reader interest. It was a business decision.

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a raly on Mercer Island. The local Mercer Island newspaper showed a photo ONLY of the counter-rally and ignored the violent incident, as reported here and here.

I asked reporters about this issue of news coverage of rallies and protests. One reporter said that most rallies simply aren't newsworthy. It's not news when progressives protest against war, or when Catholics protest against abortion. Only if rallies are massive (like hundreds of thousands of people), or violent, do they get coverage. If it bleeds, it leads.

I'm getting invitation s to another health care rally in Seattle, this one organized by MoveOn.org, the state Health Care for America NOW! coalition, and Fuse Washington. It says the rally will be "massive". Should I go?

Nowadays even conservatives have their rallies and protests and tea parties. On the other hand, the conservatives' rallies tend to get a lot of publicity and coverage by FOX News.

As discussed here, protests might work better if they had the backing of religious leaders, the way civil rights protests in the 1960s had support of leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King.

Why haven't there been any benefit concerts by popular singers and musicians for health care reform?

It seems to me that progressives need to spend a LOT more time building relationships with reporters from the mainstream press. Like it or not, we're dependent on them for coverage.

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http://waliberals.org
DFA organizer, Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See http://WALiberals.org and http://TruthSite.org for my writing, my (more...)
 

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