Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Are we entering a new era of protest in the United States?

Postcard mailed from Washington DC to Seattle Washington in November 1969.

Past articles that address community protest and media include "Grassroots protest communication capability in the city" and "Washington, DC and protest."  Also see "Local history museums and critical analysis opportunities for communities."

The latter piece discusses the role of Washington, DC as the national capital and as a location for people to come together and protest, from Civil Rights to Women's Issues to Abortion to Anti-War to Politics.

The 1960s Anti-war protests were probably the peak of regular protest movements and actions, in DC and around the country.

With the election of Donald Trump as President, there have been repeated protests in DC, across the country, and even around the world--which is remarkable.

Protests happened immediately after the election, in NYC around the Trump Tower, on the day of the Inauguration, the Women's March the day after the Inauguration--more people came to the protest in DC than to the actual Inauguration, at airports ("Thousands protest against Trump travel ban in cities and airports," Guardian) in response to the Executive Order banning travel to the US of people from seven Middle Eastern countries where the populations are predominately Muslim.

This particular postcard was sent by a health care professional to someone that she worked with, addressed to a specific medical ward at the hospital.  She had come to DC for a conference. 

They arrived during a big Anti-War protest, the "Moratorium," and the message comments on how the protest made getting around difficult, that streets were closed, and also full of people.

I had been meaning to write a piece speculating about whether or not we are entering a new era of frequent protest, and in the interim, the Washington City Paper published a great piece on the topic, "District of Protest: How D.C. Will Foster Political Expression in the Era of Trump."

Amanda Kolson Hurley writes:
Not even two weeks into the Trump presidency, it’s becoming clear that large crowds taking to the streets to oppose his administration won’t be a rare occurrence. It’s hard to predict all the consequences for the city, but here are a few to expect.
  • Citizens will feel a stronger sense of ownership over urban space
  • The scale of D.C.'s monumental core will again be a feature, not a bug.
  • More frequent protests will underscore our dependence on Metro.
  • "Protest is the new brunch."
... It’s debatable how long the current mood will last before fatigue sets in. In the meantime, near-daily protests are a potent reminder of how flexible and accommodating our main civic spaces really are. L’Enfant, Washington’s planner, called the Mall his “public walk” and saw it not as an unspoiled green but a bustling space akin to the Champs-Elysees in Paris. He described the future city of Washington as a “system of movement”—which is exactly what it became on Jan. 21.
Some other points.  (1) Social media makes it a lot easier to organize demonstrations ("The Machinery Is in Place to Make Trump Protests Permanent," WIRED Magazine).

(2) Anarchists will seize the opportunity to be violent at protests and this will make it easy for anti-progressive forces to decry, discount, and demonize protest. Organizers will have to develop much more sophisticated approaches and responses if they don't want to be ignored, and if they want to move change forward, instead of being sidelined.

 A UC Berkeley graduate student, Melissa Batchelor Warnke, has a great op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, "Berkeley protesters just fell into the most obvious trap imaginable. Again," discussing recent protests there around the talk by alt-right personage Milo Yiannopoulos.  From the article:
What was originally billed as a peaceful protest quickly turned violent. The bigot didn’t end up speaking to a crowd of several hundred students. Instead, he spoke to a crowd of millions, during an extended interview on Fox News and a series of rants on his Facebook page, where he claimed he’d been evacuated from the campus. ...

East Bay protests are often overrun by relatively small numbers of black bloc anarchists, who hijack the message and the intent of these events. Imagine the peaceful protesters anticipating that would happen, and making clear contingency plans for it. Imagine the bigot strolling out into a near-empty plaza, confronted by his own irrelevance. Imagine students moving far away from the black bloc when it became violent, and holding an equally powerful show of nonviolent disgust, rather than gaping and building the anarchists’ crowd. Imagine another student group hosting a well-attended speech on the history of justice movements at UC Berkeley to coincide with his event. In any other scenario, the bigot would more than likely have gone on being the same fragile, cold-hearted creature he was when he arrived, with the same number of devotees. After tonight’s actions, he has many more.
The volume of ridership on the day of the Women's March made clear failures in the original design of the system in terms of platform width and length, and the limited number of escalators, elevators, and stairways at key stations being too small to handle huge crowds.

(3) In DC, WMATA successfully handled the transportation needs for the Women's March ("Women's March on Washington vs. Inauguration: March crowds take lead," USA Today) when mostly for the past couple years, Metrorail has been an incessant series of failures.  The success--the day was Metrorail's second highest ridership day ever, with over one million rides--was nice to see.

(4) My experience in college--which was a few years after the end of the 1960s protest era (1974 was the end, when the US pulled troops out of Vietnam)--was that a lot of people considered protests from that era a failure and therefore they needed new--read more narcissistic--approaches.

Considering how long social change takes (think of the incidence of tobacco use, dating to the Surgeon General report in 1964 and later steps concerning advertising on television, secondhand smoke bans, etc.), given that the US got out of Vietnam, that LBJ didn't run for president again in 1968, that Richard Nixon was forced out of office because of Watergate, not to mention Civil Rights and Women's Rights gains, it's fair to say that the 1960s protest movements did not fail, but succeeded wildly, in a society where there are many political barriers to social change.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a good example that shows not having an agenda doesn't help propel change forward. And a counter is that the conservative Tea Party movement was successful in propelling change, because they were able to manipulate the bias within how political districts are set up for State Legislatures and the House of Representatives.  See "Beyond Zuccotti Park: Book and Exhibit."

Anyway, Todd Gitlin's book The Whole World is Watching, which analyzed the impact of media coverage by the New York Times and CBS News on the anti-war group, Students for a Democratic Society, is well worth reading about how media coverage influences advocacy groups and how they are perceived, although compared to the minimal world of media back then, and the explosion of online media and social media directly controlled by participants, the world of political action is much different today.

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At 12:28 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

"feature, not a bug".

Yep. And be worried when elected leaders start throwing up street furniture, bike lanes, and trees along major streets -- almost always a sign of a crackdown on protestors.

(and no, I'm not kidding)

also this:

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Thank you for that link. In the grassroots communications post, I think I included an old Ted Rall cartoon that makes some of the same points.

2. but yes, a big response in the 1960s was a anti-protest architectural design framework. E.g., the Admin. building at the U of Michigan has slits for windows.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

few seem to take into consideration the effects of mass protestors on the actual residents who live in DC. Outside of the National Mall, which is maintained by the NPS, any mayhem or craziness caused by protestors is paid for by local DC tax dollars. Many people resent this deeply- and outsiders or folks not from the city seldom recognize these feelings or take them seriously.

At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is no magic federal police force or fire and rescue paid for by the federal government for when people get out of control- or for when they throw trash around or break things in the local city. Its one thing to spend money on local businesses and to be relatively passive and orderly- as were the women after the Inaugural, but more often than not protests victimize local people or businesses here in DC. Its not all fun & games for everyone in this.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

that's a price you pay for democracy. What sparked my original interest in writing about this was complaints on an H St. listserv about the Answer Coalition posters being plastered around the neighborhood.

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

its more than that- it goes along with the lack of representation as a major local issue and we get totally ignored by people from elsewhere on this. Back when the KKK threatened to march in DC in 1983 and backed out at the last minute- a riot ensued in downtown DC- and over $30,000 in broken windows and property damage were done to my cousins restaurant- nowhere was to be seen the feds- or any police - helping out in this or helping to stop the violence - which wound up affecting local people more than making national news. It is a lame excuse to say its part of democracy when this sort of malevolent activity victimizes people directly . The feds should compensate local DC businesses and property owners when protestors do damage or cause problems . They take police protection away form the neighborhoods while they are looking after these foolish people.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

cf. Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto, etc. and the impact of similar kinds of damage.

There is a price to pay to be in a world capital. There's also a benefit. DC wouldn't exist were it not for the national capital. Maybe Georgetown would have gotten bigger, but you'd be living in Georgetown.

No demonstrations probably. But a much smaller economy.

At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

talk to the guys and gals on the 32 bus I was on the other day- they feel exactly as I do- we have no choice but to pay for all of the cleanup for these people who would NEVER think to do anything like this in their hometowns.

At 6:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

um, not the case. The black bloc anarchists wreck their cities too (cf. Seattle, Oakland, SF, Berkeley, etc.).


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