Sunday, February 26, 2006

A look at protesting from the other side

Anyone who has been reading this blog for more than a couple of months has probably read me writing about my distaste for political protest. ((Let's look at that word: "Distate." I don't want to ban it, I won't do anything to stop you from doing it. I just don't like it and think it damages more causes than it helps. So don't write me and tell me I'm a fascist, m'kay?. (My dislike for how we throw the word "fascist" around these days deserves a whole 'nother post.))

When I tell people that protesting is usually a dumb idea*, I'm usually talking to liberals and tend to get accused of not liking it because I'm more conservative than they are. So it's nice to be able to talk about it when conservatives are doing it.

On the UU theology mailing list, I'm getting a chance to look at the protest argument from the other side of the political aisle. A UU from Finland posted an article saying that The Rev. Fred Phelps is back to his old tricks of protesting funerals.

Responses on the mailing list have been along the lines of "What is it going to take to ban them?" and "OOoh this free speech thing. I used to be a defender of it." (Are even UUs starting to say this? That also deserves a whole 'nother post.) And indeed, several states have been moving toward legally banning funeral protests.

As a civil libertarian I'm more or less against banning funeral protests, though the right to protest funerals is not a hill I would typically chose to die on. Besides, these funeral protests are the best thing in the world for liberalism.

Naturally, "how can we stop these horrible protests" is exactly the wrong response. Liberals suck mightily at working together, conservatives do not. If the Democrats could run a political party half was well as the Republicans can, there would be no Green party. I'm sure the conservative extremists seem just as implacable to the Republican party as liberal extremists do to the Democrats, but the Republicans manage to keep a majority of their extreme members just happy enough to stay in the party. The Democrats can't.

Any fissure we see in the Republican party should cause all Democrats to get some popcorn, grab a ringside seat, and shut up.

Needless to say, the Rev. Fred Phelps and his protesters come off as redneck assholes on TV. They look angry and nasty and like no one you would want to join ever. Their arguments are completely illogical to anyone who isn't in love with their cause. They actually look more alienating than hippies, which is saying a lot in my book. Most beautiful of all, they are protesting MILITARY funerals. The military is typically a huge Republican voting block. And here conservative extremists are insulting their dead brothers.

So, no, don't ban these protests. Just sit back and watch and hope Phelps alienates as many Republicans as he possibly can before the Republicans stop him. (And they will. Because they've watched Liberals for years and they know how the public reacts to protesters who act like offensive assholes.)

But the next time someone in your Union or liberal organization says ""Hey, let's close down all the bathrooms in the Chicago airport. That will make people pay attention to us! When little kids, pregnant women, sick people and old people who have to go so badly they are in pain beg us to please let us use the bathroom, we will say "no!" Because nothing gets a cause on the news like pointless cruelty to incredibly sympathetic victims,"" you might want to think about how Fred Phelps is looking on the news these days before jumping on the bandwagon.

Someone stuck up "threatening to close down the bathrooms at the Chicago airport" up at Peacebang one time as an example of a "funny activism story."

What we should really be doing is sending it to Fred Phelps as a suggestion.


*It uses a fuckton of volunteer resources, a cause often as not one comes off in the media looking worse than it did before and political leaders don't listen to them anyway. (Yes, I know what Nixon said. He was lying.)


Anonymous said...

The Phelps crowd are really awful. Putting them on television as often as possible and encouraging them to print their views widely in newspapers and magazines would really help the Democrats start winning elections, I think. I don't understand why people seem to overlook this element of free speech: the ability to give your idiotic opponent all the rope he needs to hand himself.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, you and Joyce completely (and I mean COMPLETELY!) agree on this one. I hear the same lecture at home periodically.
The question for liberals (after they start listening to you on what you've said here.) is: what DOES work if protests don't?

TheCSO said...

Because, like it or not, we have a two-party system in this country. Whichever party is closer to the views of a nutjob gets tarred by what they do. The Democratic Party gets associated with every nutjob liberal cause out there, because they're closer to it than the Republicans are. Look at the "legalize all drugs NOW" people. The Democrats don't want to be associated with them, but they are - because they're closer to that groups views than the Republicans are.

Since Phelps' views are *closer* to the Republicans than to the Democrats, the Republicans get stuck with him as a matter of public opinion. He's *their* problem. That's not fair, that's not right, but that's how the American system of political parties works.

I don't see this as a general attack on all Republicans. It's a criticism of Democratic party tactics, nothing more. They should just issue a cursory denouncement for the record that no one will read, then sit back and watch the fireworks.

There *is* a certain minority in this country who basically agree with Phelps. Statistically, most of those people are Republicans. That's NOT saying that all, or even most, Republicans agree with him - just that of the people who DO agree with him, far more are Republicans than are Democrats. That, too, makes him the Republican's problem.

Joel Monka said...

I realize you didn't mean it that way, but "Any fissure we see in the Republican party..." and "... before the Republicans stop him. (And they will." made it sound like he's an official part of the party- otherwise why would Republicans have any better luck at stopping him than Democrats? It looks to me like he'll keep going as long as he keeps getting ink, or until a grieving family member snaps and takes him out.

On the freedom of speech argument, those here in Indiana backing the law against funeral protests are arguing that a funeral is a private function, not a public one, even on those occasions when the cemetary is public land- and we don't have the right to speak at private functions. A stranger can't walk in off the street and disrupt your wedding, for example, even if you're renting a public venue. (I have a friend who is renting the Statehouse rotunda for her wedding) I must admit that argument looks good to me.

Chalicechick said...

Again, the Republicans have GREATER MOTIVATION to stop the protests. The protests are making Republicans look bad in the same way eco-terrorism makes Democrats look bad.

A Democrat might be working to stop funeral protests out of personal conviction that such things are wrong, and many are, but it is in the Democrats' best interest to sit back at let Phelps cheese off as many Military families aas possible, some of whom will inevitably blame the party that agrees with Phelps in being against gay rights.

Also, these protests are mostly happening in Red states, where the Republicans are in charge.


Jamie Goodwin said...

In Ohio they are trying to pass a billtha requires funeral protests take place no less than 2 hours before or after the funeral because it is considered a private affair. State funerals (and I have no idea when the last state funeral happened in Ohio.. McKinley maybe?) would be exempt.

I agree with you 100%, everytime someone stands up at a funeral with a sign saying Matthew Shepard X years in Hell.. it pisses me off, but I know in the back of my mind that they are doing more good for gay causes then bad because even people who might agree with them are horrified by their actions.

In many ways I perfer Phelps than to the suit and tie, smile at you and then stab you in the back type of homophobic.

LaReinaCobre said...

I find the idea of encouraging extremist behavior because it alienates one’s “enemies” to one’s own side extremely depressing.

Chalicechick said...

Politics is an extremely depressing business.