Sunday, January 29, 2017

Geographical base of US protest

The fixation on social media obscures this, but protest in the US is strongly geographically linked. Other than the rare international meetings or major political conventions that activist networks make an effort to bring people to from a wide area, the kind of horizontalist movements that are the main mode of contemporary protest rely on people who don't have to travel a long distance. Even something like the NoDAPL Sacred Stone Camp, which attracts people from far away, is organized around a base of indigenous people who live there.

The airport protests around the Muslim Ban are a case in point. They sprung up quickly, without much leadership. This type of protest is made to order for the left, because large international airports tend to be located near large cities. Just as Occupy started with Occupy Wall St., the airport protests seem to have started at JFK. And the largest ones are near instantly recognizable left strongholds.

I looked at a list of large international airports in the US, and there are about 30 of them. I tried to match them to a reported list of airport protests. There are three large cities -- NYC, DC, and Chicago -- that seem to have an under-protested airport because they have two large airports each and protests focussed on one of them. But otherwise, my impression is that the area with a number of large airports that isn't reliably blue enough to have large protests is Florida.

The geographic base of protests has good elements and bad. It makes it easy for horizontally organized protest to start in NYC. It makes it difficult for protest to spread to the areas of the country that most need it. It means that left-leaning areas can get a lot of media, but makes them less aware of the attitudes of people elsewhere.

But the major problem is that it represents a vulnerability. As with OWS, when a protest in NYC gets repressed, the penumbra goes away -- people outside don't have the ability to sustain a national or international movement. That's something that people have to think about.


  1. As with the women's march, we could be seeing mobilization without political organization -- a gift to left-neoliberalism, but useless for substantive governance.

    It isn't enough to get people to show up to demonstrate their own virtue. There needs to be enough organization to nurture critical thought and commitment.

  2. This is clearly an unsolved problem. But I've written about it in my series in this blog on Occupy. There are / were lots of more organized approaches tried, and they didn't succeed. The reasons for that? Basically a) repression, b) lack of theory for people to coalesce around, c) actual failures of previous top-down left organization.

    I don't think that showing up at protests really is virtue signaling in the same way that scolding people on the Internet is. It's actively dangerous. It may or may not be misguided, but when virtue signaling involves risk it becomes something more like actual virtue.