If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you’re comfortable. There’s also a chance that you’re reading this on your phone or in a library or at work because that’s your only choice. Those may be two answers to one question I’ve heard recently; “Why aren’t more people marching in the streets?” Climate change, politics, social injustice, labor issues seem to inspire parades and marches more regularly in other countries, but less so in the US. A core reason for fewer marches may be poorer personal finances and whether people feel the need or the want to spend the time.
Time is money, but time is more than that. Money isn’t time, but depending on how much you have determines how you spend your time. If you don’t have enough money, you may not have enough ‘free’ time to spend advocating for wages or benefits for yourself, or on community or global issues. For some with enough money to have plenty of free time, marching may seem disingenuous. It’s hard to advocate for a higher minimum wage when you can’t answer the question about what it’s like to not have enough in the modern age. Recollections from three decades ago no longer apply as social mobility has stalled. There can be an element of guilt if the comforts came from careers spent at corporations that funded a retirement while also causing the issue that inspired the march. Fortunately, many march regardless.
Marches are rarely convenient. They only catch the news when the numbers reach high enough, and that necessitates siting them in cities. There are enough million-people marches to show up on the evening news, but they show up because they are also rare. Large cities can have large marches, especially if they also have cheap mass transit. (Hello, rest of the world.) Parking a few hundred thousand cars isn’t feasible in most places. Just imagine the porta-potties. For smaller cities, imagine the commutes many must undertake to arrive at the scene. Imagine the traffic before and after, then interruptions in the middle. Very inconvenient.
There’s a personal cost, too. Take a million-person march as a simple example. Without cheap transportation or free food or paid time off, each person can easily spend $100 for the event in real costs or lost wages. That’s potentially $100,000,000 dedicated to a cause that may only result in at most a couple of minutes in the news.
And then, there’s questioning the effectiveness. In some countries, governments listen – whether through duty or fear.
Within the last few years there was an article about the D.C. police force’s shifting priorities. They continue to control parades, but except for a few major events, the parades are getting smaller and there’s less call to quiet them. According to the police officers interviewed, the politicians know how to avoid and ignore the protesters. The police now know how to relax – most of the time.
Unfortunately, the need for conversations may be even greater than before. Issues are now global, even if they seem local. We are affected by the price of tea in China (or at least I am. #TomTea)
With enough time and other resources it would be interesting to compare the amount of time and resources spent in a million-person march from a decade ago against the social media traffic about the same topic now.
Activism online takes less time and money; and some would argue, takes so little effort to make many of the comments trivial. A new weird element in the modern world is that a tweet or a video made by one person can be the catalyst that necessitates change. Hundreds or thousands of similar posts can go by with only a few Likes and Shares, and then one stands out that brings criminals to justice, compels governments to act, educates populations of the necessity to change lifestyles and choices. The weirdest part is that researches have uncovered the unpredictable and chaotic nature of whether a post will go viral or not. A good reason to post, even if you think it will be ignored.
I have mixed emotions about what I see on social media. Too little of it is truly social. So much of it is about advocacy across an overwhelming diversity of opinions. (And yet, I know of none that perfectly match my perspective.) At the same time, the social posts connect me with friends, and I’m impressed with how many people actually critically judge and develop their positions.
I rarely participate in a parade or a march for a cause. Too much of is seems like preaching to, or maybe just walking, with a choir. Solidarity is confirming, but if no one else is listening, that’s all it may be.
Mass marches, protests, and parades caused change. My hometown and its region are known for union activities that revolutionized industries: iron, steel, coal, trucking, teaching, et al. My house was within a few miles of the Homestead Massacre, where 10 people died. My Dad’s hometown was a coal company town, a concept that was eradicated because it was so unjust. Trucking strikes, teachers’ strikes, strikes from a time when strikes were effective, which I now recognize happened because of people who lived there, people who were far from comfortable and actually in deadly danger.
People today are also in deadly danger. Some jobs remain that risky. Many lives are seeing increasing risk. The planet is in turmoil. There are occasional marches and parades; but about the only place we gather regularly is online. Maybe that’s OK. People today are also more comfortable or may not be unable to spend the time or money to gather anywhere else, two more reasons why people aren’t in the streets. But just because they’re sitting somewhere comfortable does not mean they feel comfortable. They’re parading, but individually, online, in ways they couldn’t before, possibly with results that were unimaginable.