I’ve never been much of a believer in big marches, demonstrations, or protests. Primarily because they seem passé and ineffective, especially relative to the organizing work involved.But the incredible work that protesters have done this week to disrupt the olympic torch relay in London, Paris, and now San Francisco has brought me hope and completely changed my attitude on the power of protest. As an organizer, I’m always heartened by good examples of effective mobilizing, especially when they’re self-organized. But these past few days have been different — perhaps because I’m in such strong support of the effort, or because the entire 5 day+ affair caught me by surprise. I wish no disruption to the athletes who have no doubt trained for years to compete in this year’s games, but I don’t agree with rewarding a country that consistently abuses basic human rights by handing it the Olympic Games. In the years since it was awarded the games, China squandered numerous opportunities to demonstrate its commitment to making human rights improvements. My friend Japhet was one of the SF organizers. Your correspondent spoke with him this evening to learn more about what happened on the ground today. I was primarily surprised to learn how often the torch delegation and its massive police escort were forced to reroute (the original route was never used apparently), and how the technology being used by the protesters and organizers — mostly SMS — enabled them to apply constant pressure with great agility. Also interesting: The comm’s system in place was both heavily distributed (to gather intel on torch location) and heavily centralized (to broadcast changing plans). So, except for anyone still hunger-striking, we’re no longer using our parents’ protest tools. The elements of a successful action, however, appear to have remain unchanged:
(1) timing — global news media is focused on the torch, so hijack the news cycle and an iconic moment (torch relay) to capture hearts and minds (ok, mostly minds)
(2) targeting — it only took a few dozen to a few hundred people to make a significant impact in SF; not tens of thousands of people marching on D.C.