David v. David on Marching and Relevance

Wherein David Corn and David Swanson engage in an intellectual deathmatch quarrel kerfluffle -- uh, disagreement? -- for your activatory edification.

Your humble referee presumes to take no position in this matter, and, should any apparent bias emerge, shall endeavor to resign it to the deepest, darkest available pit. The diarist's intent is merely to foster awareness and discussion of these two divergent views on dissent.

And no, I haven't been drinking.

NOTE that this exchange never actually took place. The quotes are drawn from Corn's recent piece, Marching To Irrelevance, and Swanson's subsequent article, the Relevance of Marching. Since Swanson's piece was written in response to Corn's, the former has the advantage, and this should be taken into account by the judges.
CORN: Back in the 1960s, such events had the power of novelty. Never before had so many citizens protested a war. That was news. And in the days before daily polling that is regurgitated by cable news, newspapers and blogs, these demonstrations were necessary signs that something was happening here--or there. But today, anyone who bothers to read newspapers knows that a majority of Americans believe the war in Iraq was a mistake.

SWANSON: While a majority of Americans currently oppose the war, only a tiny minority knows that. Most people who oppose the war believe falsely that they hold a minority opinion. A march helps people learn that a mainstream opinion is mainstream. Each person at the march is understood to represent many more people who could not take off work, travel, physically march that distance, or risk arrest.

In my nearly two decades in Washington, I recall one mass demonstration that seemed to have made a difference. That was the 1989 march for reproductive rights. At the time --- like now --- abortion rights were under assault, and there was a sense, fair or not, that those who had fought for these rights had become complacent. This demonstration --- attended by several hundred thousands --- showed that the folks in favor of abortion rights were not asleep.

Most marches I've been part of have resulted in positive change. The marches against this war have very likely helped prevent it being more of a slaughter than it's been. A few years back, ACORN and others organized a march on the Department of Health and Human Services, protesting their new policy of eliminating the minimum wage for workfare jobs. Within 8 hours, the White House reversed that policy. Numerous other marches at the Capitol and White House, even under Bush, have immediately resulted in improvements in horrible legislation, if only very rarely reversals of plans.

: As an alternative to a mass rally in the shadow of an unoccupied Capitol, could the anti-war movement plot a strategy of zeroing in on a number of representatives and senators and attempt to convince them that they might have to pay the ultimate price for supporting the war?

In fact, there have been discussions about this among the organizers of the recent national march. But the MeetWithTheMothers.org campaign, among other groups, was doing this in the weeks leading up to the march, and it did some good, but no one noticed. No one even bothered to write dismissive articles about it. It did not, I expect, do as much to bring in new people as this march did. We need both types of actions if we are going to have an effective movement.

One obvious response is that war foes can do both. But my hunch is that the rallies do distract--or at least consume--resources that could be used elsewhere.

Local energy is higher now, not depleted by the national march or any of the regional marches that took place the same day. This is not a zero-sum game. It's closer to the reverse. The more we do, the more people come in with more energy to do more.

CORN: It takes time and money to organize a national rally in Washington. Is that the best use of resources? Is that the most effective way of sending a message, especially when that message has to be carried by members of the media who may or may not accurately represent the message or devote much attention to it? (The national edition of The New York Times covered the recent rally in a few short paragraphs on the inside.)

Most of the stories in the corporate media communicated that there was a huge, diverse march of people from all over the country who wanted to end the war.

If the organizers of Saturday's anti-war march could have imported a million Americans into the nation's capital, perhaps that would have signaled that the national unease with the war is more pointed and passionate than most people assume. [ . . . ] Yet 100,000 to 200,000 doesn't register on the oh-my-goodness scale.

[ . . . ] it will not happen without smaller marches first and recognition of what they achieve. It certainly won't happen if we write off marching as an outdated tool, the way the Bushies write off the labor movement.
You will find a scorecard inside the program you were given at the door. Pencils are now being circulated.

If you'd like to review the action, Mr. Corn's stats are presented here and Mr. Swanson's are here.

Please drop your completed scorecard in the box by the door on your way out, and have a pleasant night morning day -- uh, weekend?

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