Why is there so little protest in response to these hard economic times?
One of the rare examples of civil disobedience occurred in late July, when more than 100 people, mobilized by the community organizing group ACORN, gathered outside a foreclosed home in Oakland and attempted to take it back on behalf of its owner. The owner, Tosha Alberty, said she is the victim of a predatory loan. She claims she had tried to work with her lender to modify the loan, but the lender refused. Alberty was at work on July 20 when sheriff’s deputies showed up and evicted her family from the house, she said. A few days later, the ACORN group sat on the steps behind the padlocked gate and refused to move. Six of them were arrested for trespassing.
The protest was part of ACORN’s nationwide Home Defenders campaign to challenge foreclosures and evictions by lenders and to push Congress to strengthen anti-foreclosure legislation so that banks will be required to renegotiate mortgages. (The Obama administration’s program is voluntary.) The Oakland protest, however, received no attention in any major media outlet. A protest without reporters and TV cameras is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest that nobody hears. When the media cover rallies and protests, it gives people a sense that they are not alone, that others share their fears and hopes. It makes them more likely to get involved in efforts to bring about change.
In recent years, right-wingers have been more willing to protest, whether their allies were in or out of power. With Obama in the White House and the Democrats in control of Congress, they’re exercising their memory muscle for creative dissent–and getting more media coverage than their liberal counterparts. In recent weeks, for example, what the New York Times calls a “loose-knit coalition of conservative voters and advocacy groups,” including Republican activists egged on by right-wing radio talk-show hosts, have mounted protests in Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to oppose Obama’s healthcare reform. On August 1, a few hundred conservative activists in Austin, Texas, some carrying signs that said “No Socialized Health Care,” surrounded Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett at a supermarket, where he was meeting with voters.
The right-wing groups use Twitter and Facebook to recruit protesters and quickly put videos of their actions on YouTube. However narrow the constituency for these protests, the campaign is making headlines and contributing to the reluctance of centrist Democrats to back Obama’s healthcare plan.
Public opinion polls reveal that Americans are angry about the current economic, healthcare, housing and environmental crises. Polls also document that a significant majority of Americans want the federal government to do something to fix these problems. But history shows that public opinion, on its own, isn’t enough to change public policy.