THE FIRST TIME I came into contact with a protest here in Santiago was May of 2004. I rode my bike blind down the street through teargas and water cannons. The protesters were school kids who hadn’t been issued their reduced-fare bus passes. Since then I’ve seen protests as massive as the “Revolución de los Pinguinos,” where 900,000 kids (in a country of just 16 million) were on paro, or stoppage. And the current protests, which have been going on for months, with periodic marches and stoppages, that neither rain nor aggressive police retaliation have stopped.
So I have to ask the question, why here (in Chile) and not there (in the United States)? Are people not angry enough? Not galvanized enough? Convinced that what they do won’t make a bit of difference? Since the question first occurred to me, I’ve asked many people in person and at Matador, where we recently posted the question on our Facebook page. Here are some of our readers’ answers and what I’ve heard from others as I’ve asked this question.
And one of the most common comments was, to the tune of “we do have protests in the United States.” Commenters pointed to takeovers in Wisconsin, to east coast mobs and to several other protests seen in recent (and not-so recent times).
My response: fair enough. There are more protests in the United States than my originally-worded question would indicate, and saying that there are no protests is unfair.
Maybe recent news events and what we’re living through in Chile has warped my protest filter, and the protests I’m talking about are the ones that take all day, or all night, or night-after-night, that have a heady cost associated with them, whether by lost work hours, inconvenience or discomfort. The kind of protests that go on and on, working themselves into a fervor, that make international news, that demand change, and don’t end before it’s time for dinner. But I stand corrected, there are some protests in the United States, though in recent times it does not rise to the level of what we see in Latin America, in parts of Europe and in other parts of the world.
But enough people also commented about why Americans don’t protest that I believe that it is a commonly-held notion that Americans don’t protest as much as people in other countries. What factors come together to make that the case? According to our readers, they are mainly conformity/compliance, laziness, a belief that protesting won’t change anything/the situation is not that bad, and fear.
These two comments, along with others, express the belief that we are told not to protest, and so, like sheep (here’s the portmanteau of sheep plus people, yielding sheeple), we just don’t. Another commenter said that groups that we may belong to, such as churches, also inculcate us with the belief that we should not protest. And that we heed this teaching.
A sort of get-up-and-go and can-do attitude that we as Americans have been brought up with, and which leads to great entrepreneurial success and innovation, is apparently left at the protest door/gate/starting point.
Protesting won’t change anything/it’s not that bad
A few commenters echoed what I heard from kids on the city bus in Brooklyn on my way to Junior High School when I told my classmates that I was going to a protest that weekend. Why would you do that? It’s not going to change anything. But at least I’m trying, I would say. It makes me wonder if people in other parts of the world believe it’s more important to cause the change to happen or not to have sat idly by when change could have been demanded.
This comment indicates that demonstrating could cause negative repercussions for the protestor, that he could be called out by his fellow citizens as a socialist, or worse. Other commenters say that there is fear that the situation could get worse if people protest.
A recent article gives a series of other, more systemic, less psychological responses, giving reasons why young americans don’t fight back, finding fear of not being able to pay back student loans and overmedication of youth (with ADD medications, among others) among them.
What do you think? Do Americans protest? Is it enough? If they (or you) don’t, why is that? Is it fear? compliance? a belief that things just aren’t that bad? What motivates you to get up off your couch or to stay put?
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