why I don’t go to rallies


Ah, remember that one time when we made everyone in town hate Brittany, aka the “Ralph Nader of New Paltz”? Funsies! Kiddos, don’t do what we did and dare to believe that you have a right to run for Village Board without the approval of one of the two major parties or the third party to which you belong—running without the express approval of any of these groups and instead merely as a person who would be kickass for the job will, with absolute certainty, cause people to scream at you for all eternity because you “spoiled” “their” election. But weren’t the signs ridiculously cute? And the boys sharpening promotional pencils? (Click that link above for the cuteness)

On our little New Paltz Green Party email list, we’ve been having a little discussion about why we didn’t take a more active role in co-sponsoring and participating in a recent anti-war rally.

Rallies are a bit of a touchy subject for me. To put it plainly: I hate them and think they are stupid.

Well, to be fair and a little bit more nuanced, I should say that it seems to be that not only are they largely ineffectual, they have also become festivals of ridiculousness for well-meaning but largely idiotic lefties looking more for a playground than a revolution (I should here perhaps remind people that I generally dislike any sort of festive public gathering, political or not). I’m the last person to say that artistic expression isn’t a part of the revolution, but the lack of focus at most rallies is disturbing.

Unless they are supremely giant (Sandor Katz, Jacob and I went to the 2003 NYC anti-war rally together and that was the last time in recent memory that I felt even a vague a sense of purpose in a group of lefties….On the other hand, Sandor spent that night in jail, if I remember correctly.) they accomplish less than nothing, because they make us look stupid. And a supremely giant rally is nearly impossible to create.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote to the group, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Oh! First of all, I should state that my bestest frenemy made some points I completely and totally agree with:

I think that it’s a waste of the organization’s time to make any attempt to end the war in afghanistan directly. The purpose of the Green Party is to implement our vision of the world through first electing Greens to positions in government, then electing enough Greens to hold majorities and govern, then to have those Green majorities implement public policy that is going to quickly bring us implementation of the Green Party vision. The New Paltz Green Party’s reason for being is supposedly to build an organization (and support for that organization) large enough to hold majorities on the Town Council, Village Board and send five or six Greens to the Ulster County Legislature.

That requires an organization geared towards raising money, recruiting members, articulating what Green means in the context of New Paltz policy and training our members to run for and hold office.

Since the Green Party seems only rarely able to make any efforts in that direction I, as a party member would have grave concerns about our leadership spending energy on quixotic protest movements as well. There are many, many other organizations focused on national and global political issues and if wanted to work to stop the Afghanistan war, Id join and work with them.

I would even argue that the New Paltz Greens should not run anyone for Congress on a stop-the-war platform unless and until we have a local political party doing local political work again, rather than what we seem to have now — just another vaguely leftist protest group which uses the Green Party name to help get Democrats elected.

Yeah, well, the end is crap, but there are some good points in there. Here’s what I wrote:

Thanks for raising this question. I was the one you mentioned, I believe, who tossed off a remark about how I don’t think rallies of the sort that took place last weekend do any good, and thanks for the opportunity to expand on that, which might have seemed callous at the meeting.

Actually, Jason said pretty much exactly what I was going on say on this issue (except for the part where he insults the NPGP, which might be true in some ways [not the part about getting Democrats elected, Jesus Christ, you endorse one awesome Democrat [Kitty Brown! Vote for her!] and….breathing breathing breathing, moving on] but certainly isn’t productive).

Here’s my take on it:

It’s not that I don’t think protests and rallies and demos can never do any good, it’s just that in terms of time spent versus results achieved, I don’t see a strong enough connection to put in the time.

In 2003 pretty much the entire world rallied around not invading Iraq, and I don’t see that it did one iota. (Yes, we had a different President. But still.) That was very disparaging, especially when I had seen how rallies could make a difference—when I was a kid in Arizona my mom and I went on dozens of MLK Day rallies, and eventually Arizona recognized MLK Day. It felt like we accomplished something. (On the other hand, I also remember going to rallies against that idiotic Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and he is still as crazy as ever. And many pro-choice rallies, which you could say, I suppose, have worked. And countless demos against meat…which people are still eating.).

While I’m inclined to completely agree with Jason and take the position that the NPGP should focus on issues closer to home and become a stronger group before we tackle larger problems, I also think it’s wonderful that there are people in the group who are concerned about those larger international issues and want to fight against war, for example, in the name of the New Paltz Green Party. That warms my heart.

On a personal level, however, here’s how I see it: I have a very limited amount of time on this earth. I need to pick my battles. Though I very much want to end war, I have serious doubts that going to a rally in Kingston will do anything at all to accomplish that. I could listen to speakers saying what I already believe in the company of others who completely agree with me, but what else will I accomplish?

Instead, I work most of the time and try to use my job as an example of what a small business run with principles other than capitalism at its heart can be. In my spare time, I try to do what little tiny bits I can to ensure that in my little tiny town good people are elected so that New Paltz continues to be (or, um, begins to be) a well-functioning, progressive town.

I don’t do nearly as much of that work as I should, but it is my belief that in focusing my life on those two issues (as well as a few other little tangential pursuits) I can have a greater impact on those specific goals than I could have if I spread myself so thin trying to do so much that I never accomplished anything.

This is why I do not personally go to rallies, though I would very much like to see our country end its violent overseas policies. I am worried that this makes me seem heartless and like I don’t care about anything outside of New Paltz and my life, but I’m just not convinced that even if I tried I could have any impact on how whether or not my country decides to uselessly kill people on the other side of the globe with my money.

I understand that a huge principle of progressive democracy is that if we all do a little bit—voting, calling our elected leaders, working on campaigns, and yes, going to rallies—we can see big changes (for the record, I do all of those things except go to rallies). If everyone in New York went to that rally, it most certainly would make a difference, I do believe that. And by saying that I won’t go because I know everyone won’t go, I understand that I am part of the problem, not the solution, as the saying goes. I am happy people are organizing antiwar rallies, even if I can’t quite put my heart into attending. I wish there were more politically active Greens so we weren’t always spread out so thin and that we could carry a banner at the rally. I don’t see why, if we were a bigger party, we shouldn’t.

But again: I feel most sane and like I am making the biggest impact when I am focusing my life like a laser beam on what I feel I can reasonably accomplish. It’s not perfect, it’s just where I’m at right now.

14 Responses to “why I don’t go to rallies”

  1. brittany

    hahahahahahahaha i freaking love you so much and that was probably one of the funnest days every (and no probably about it – the BEST signs ever)

    i’m avoiding the listserv convo bc it’s extraordinarily stupid which is fitting, really, because rallies are also extraordinarily stupid and everyone on that listserv ( with like 2.5 exceptions) is also extraordinarily stupid. in my opinion, not only are you absolutely correct but you are also far more eloquent about it than i will ever have the patience to be again. (stupid, stupid, stupid.)

    my report from a covert rally attendee was that it was your typical rally that refused to call out d-bag dems and the ultimate message was that “the left” is unsuccessful because “the left” just hasn’t worked hard enough yet. yeah, we just need to get a few more buses headed to DC and all will be well. right. W8UT98SWLEYZTQ98AQ3WEHSD8AWLETZKSDF9L3EARJKGD

    i’m starting to think that the rest of my comments should be reserved for a private email, so that’s what i’ll do. also, i’m quitting the GP.

      • brittany

        who knows. maybe i’ll be NOP or pink party just out of spite or jump on board with pete’s PR party… but the greens aren’t where it’s at anymore. we’re so focused on 7,000 specific issues without focusing on the systemic issues that are REALLY important. we need to be working, all the time, on issues that will change our 1 party system and restructure things to allow for meaningful progress instead of scattering ourselves between a zillion different things that we can make no progress on without actually being able to be the decision makers ourselves. we can’t trust those in power to do it, yet we insist on continuing to plead with them?! health care, war, reproductive rights, the environment, transparency, etc… the list is endless but the fact remains that we can’t rely on the existing system to ever make any of this come about. and until we’ve turned that system into one that actually works for us, instead of against us, i’m sad to say that the efforts of the GP or libertarians or who-freaking-ever are completely futile.

        (and, i’m sure you know, this isn’t directed specifically at the NPGP; to me, the NPGP, among others, is just indicative of the larger problem)

        i’m not even going to bother to proofread this.

      • brittany

        basically, we oughta be committing 100% of our efforts toward reforming the system. if we can’t do that, everything else is irrelevant and completely useless. it’s good that we have principles and, as concerned individuals, we should pursue those concerns at a local and national level. but enough of wasting time, money, energy, etc. on this other crap. where was everyone during the charter? where is everyone when it comes to unification? where ARE we? we’re off wandering around in marshes and swamps and at anti-war rallies with 15 other people and all this stupid shit.

        it really makes me mad. i’m all worked up.

  2. Elizabeth

    I completely agree about rallies and protests, but I usually qualify it by including “in the developed world” after.

    In developing nations, protests over human services, water rights, land preservation, political outrage etc. are still very powerful tools of dissent.

    Here in Uh-mer-i-kuh though, they’re purely symbolic forms of rage manifestation that accomplish nothing (when was the last time you heard a politician or CEO say “well, we were *going* to keep supporting that apartheid, but since a mess of people stood up, milled about, and shouted slogans for three hours, we’ve decided to reconsider”)

    Even demonstrations which result in arrests, property destruction or the impediment of officials to reach their offices, hasn’t been effective in affecting meaningful change.

    You’re totally right. It just makes us look dumb and gives hacktivists an excuse to feel good about themselves.

    • lagusta

      Great point! Thanks. Sometimes I get so stuck in my tiny little white town (sigh, it really is) that I forget that there is a larger world out there.

  3. brittany

    when we organize futile events and expect people to turn out, it’s no wonder people get burned out and frustrated and end up feeling really ineffective.

    do you really think if everyone in NY showed up at an anti-war rally we would stop illegally occupying other countries?

    • lagusta

      “do you really think if everyone in NY showed up at an anti-war rally we would stop illegally occupying other countries?”

      I’d like to think I do. If literally everyone in New York State thought the same thing and showed up at a rally the world would be so topsy turvy that who knows what would happen!

      • brittany

        i guess i’ve just lost all faith in the system as it stands. until the ruling class (republicans and democrats) have a serious threat to their security and comfort, until they’re actually losing power, i don’t think it matters if everyone in the country showed up at an anti-war rally. we don’t vote it, we don’t challenge it in meaningful ways and their interests are NOT the same as ours. they’re not going to go against their well being, no matter how popular the alternative may be.

      • lagusta

        As usual, I agree with your bleak vision of the world absolutely and completely and will rise up and join your army the minute you declare it to exist. If you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose, right? I don’t have any faith in the system as it stands either. But I have a sweet comfortable life that I adore. And so do you. And so we’re all stuck in the middle, hating everything external and being happy in our own little internal worlds. The lack of guts to throw away the comforts and join the serious struggle is my tragic flaw, I know that.

  4. andrea

    attending the first gay rights march on washington 1979
    that day,the streets were filled with people daring to be themselves in public
    it felt like the world could change
    whatever your preference, you were not alone
    it felt safe
    it was inspiring
    that one day may have changed someone’s life forever giving them courage to be themselves and little by little thanks to each brave individual the world does change

    • brittany

      i think rallies can do a lot for the people who attend them. i also think it depends on what the rally is for. rallies for change on an issue = not so much. rallies for personal growth and social awareness = more likely.

      • lagusta

        YES. That’s exactly it. I couldn’t put my finger on it before. Precisely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: