Friday, January 21, 2005

More Peace Vigil Notes

Another Friday, another stint standing on the corner with anti-war signs. Some notes from this week:

  • Numbers were pretty low, even lower than last week. Perhaps people were worn out from attending anti-inauguration protests yesterday?

  • Reception continues to be very positive, with many honks of support and only a handful of rude gestures and yells (including one carload of frat boys who sounded particularly indignant in their profanity).

  • We were egged again. This time it was cars belonging to two participants that were hit. Incidentally, I got an email from a reader who gently questioned my choice to characterize the egging last week as "attempted violence," not so much for the characterization itself but to see how else I might apply the same label. Specifically, he wanted to know if I would label the "pie-ing" of prominent politicians and business leaders that has happened from time to time in Europe and Canada as "violent." I said that it probably is technically violence, but not of a particularly despicable kind. I would still regard the two quite differently because they function quite differently politically. "Pie-ing" functions as a media spectacle. Generally it is an intervention into a political process that is already based on spectacle, such as an election, and I'm not sure it really ever does anything useful -- to tweak an old anarchist slogan, "You can't pie a social relation" -- but I think it's relatively harmless. Egging, however, functions as a form of intimidation to ordinary folk engaged in political expression. It makes people think about safety issues and raises the spectre of (and implicitly threatens more significant) personal violence, particularly for people who have a personal history that involves the experience of violence. In a small way, it raises the psychological barriers to active dissent. What we've experienced at the vigil so far is at the relatively innocent end of the spectrum, certainly, but back in Ontario having experienced threats of violence myself and had fellow activists subjected to intimidation by skinheads while doing peace leafleting, I think it is worth contextualizing the egging as part of a continuum in which supporters of the dominant agenda feel such means can spontaneously and legitimately be used in response to dissent.

  • I've been thinking about issues of visibility as a political strategy lately, probably because the chapter I'm working on at the moment for my social movement history project has to do with the gay liberation movement and visibility is an oft-pursued strategy in that context. In a way, the main function of these peace vigils is visibility. Pedestrian traffic is nearly nill at our current corner, so direct engagement with people generally doesn't happen. So is visibility sufficiently valuable in this instance to make standing on that corner time well spent? In a lot of cases I would be skeptical about whether this kind of visibility would be worth the effort but in the current political context in the United States I think it is. I think letting others see that there are people not rolling over in the face of the right-wing juggernaut is worthwhile. Sure, it's not ideal because I think most who see us would have trouble thinking beyond the Democrats as a response to the current situation, but even so I think the message of ordinary folk standing up and being counted as against the war in this country is worth doing.

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