November 18th, 2011
12:57 PM ET

Letters to the President #1033: 'How much power in a protest?'

Reporter's Note: Protesters are creating quite a stir in a variety of places. I, on the other hand, am creating yet another in my endless string of letters to President Obama.

Dear Mr. President,

Well, if you’re thinking of calling me this afternoon you might want to think again. I have taken the day off to protest. No, no, I have not joined the Occupy bunch. I’m staging my own little demonstration called “Occupy a warm seat in a nice café for breakfast, then occupy the rest of the day hanging out, maybe taking in a movie.” As protests go, I realize it is no Million Man March, but it totally fits the bill for my own little constituency of one and I shant be deterred no matter the opposition. (Although admittedly the only likely reaction will be my wife strolling by and saying something like, “So I guess you’re just going to sit there all day?” Oh, the oppression!)

I like to think that the reason I’ve never joined any kind of mass movement is that I am a level headed, reasonable guy who prefers quiet negotiation to window rattling days of discontent. That and I can never come up with enough snappy sayings for the signs or figure out where to park.

Still, I suppose another factor is this: I’m also a bit of a pessimist about such things. I’m hard pressed to believe that big marches and rallies can really cause change.

Sure, sometimes they do. But that is the exception. More often, people invest all this time and effort in gathering signatures for petitions, and setting up email chains, and buying poster board and markers; and they wind up with little to show for it. They make themselves feel excited and important, but they have little or no impact on the people they are ostensibly trying to reach.

So while I certainly have no objection to them giving it the old college try, I’m too much of a pragmatist to join their ranks even if I felt moved enough by one of their causes to contemplate such a decision. I almost always find myself measuring effort against results, not against emotion. The old “I tried my hardest so I feel good despite having lost” is for grade schoolers. Adults, I think, must be brutally honest about what they are accomplishing, or what they are failing at.

Here is the good news: In my protest of one today against the occasional drudgery of work, I expect a strong result. I will come away from it rested, happier, and more ready to tackle the tough problems on the job again next week. For my purposes, that is more likely to produce meaningful changes than any movement I might join.


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Filed under: Letters to the President • Opinion • President Barack Obama • T1 • Tom Foreman
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Mike T. (Rochester, NY)

    we hailed egypt, tunisia, we rallied against Ghadafi. we protested the use of police and military force. BUT when we in the US decide to protest, . Some of the GOP responses mimic Gadhafi, Mubarek ..yet The use of non-lethal ( yet somehow lethal ) shows that what we hope for other countries is not what US leaders won't tolerate

    November 21, 2011 at 6:15 pm |