When does protest and direct action succeed and fail?

5 posts / 0 new
Last post
Joined: 8-01-11
Jan 29 2017 09:26
When does protest and direct action succeed and fail?

Protest didn't work against the Iraq war, but did against Park Guen-Hye. What needs to be considered, what conditions are more favourable?

Hieronymous's picture
Joined: 27-07-07
Jan 29 2017 15:36


Ed's picture
Joined: 1-10-03
Jan 29 2017 22:43

So, I don't know anything about the specifics of Park Guen-Hye so can't really speak to it but in the most general sense I'd say the success of protest/direct action depends on four main things:

1) Strength of people taking action; this would be some kind of combination of numbers, willingness to take disruptive action etc

2) Strength of opposition; again, some kind of combo of how united/divided the ruling class are around a person/group/issue, how much of the police/army are they able to mobilise etc

3) How high the stakes are; if it's a relatively minor issue (i.e. turning all schools into academies), you can do a U-turn if put under more pressure than expected without it becoming a big deal. Something like the Iraq war (which involved UK's standing with the US, world imperialism etc) was much higher stakes and a U-turn there would've been a disaster for Blair imo.. and as people in the UK were mostly content to stick to non-confrontational, largely non-disruptive A-B marches, the level of pressure wasn't nearly high enough to make him consider it..

4) I suppose another element would be the ability to disrupt a policy; for instance, disrupting the Iraq war (for most people) would've meant going out of your way to find a military base to then disrupt (at great risk of arrest). Something like the Poll Tax (where you refused to do something rather than make great efforts to go and do something) or strikes on assembly lines (where relatively few people striking can have massive knock on effects) are quite different, even if they also often carried great risks..

But yeah, those are what make protests successful imo, written off the top of my head on my way to bed.. good thread idea, tho..

Joined: 27-07-11
Feb 3 2017 02:43

I can only think of one piece of theory that relates to this topic. Brian Martin’s ‘Theory for Activists’ essay mentions a ‘backfire’ model. The model largely relates to strategies used to discredit protesters in the eyes of the public; as well as the ways activists can combat said reactions. I quoted parts of that essay below.

I had an idea: maybe the government was doing something to dampen reactions. From this small and simple beginning, I developed a model for what powerful perpetrators do to minimize outrage from their(protesters) actions. It is simple enough. Five types of methods are commonly used:

#cover up the action
#devalue the target
#reinterpret the events through lying, minimizing, blaming and framing
#use official channels to give an appearance of justice
#intimidate and bribe people involved.

Here is where Martin gives advice on how to counter such suppression

The backfire model adds another layer: if the police attack the protesters, they need to think about what the police and government will do to dampen outrage - and then think about counter-tactics.

In terms of the backfire model, each of the five types of methods can be countered, with the aim of increasing outrage over injustice:

#expose the action
#validate the target
#interpret the events as unjust
#mobilise support; avoid or discredit official channels
#resist intimidation.

This set of tactics can readily be applied to dealing with the possibility of police brutality against protesters. The police are likely to use one or more of the methods to inhibit outrage, so the trick is to think of ways to counter their likely actions. Because police don't want a lot of people to see them being brutal towards peaceful protesters, so organizers, in preparation, can have plenty of witnesses present, with cameras and video-recorders. Police are likely to denigrate the protesters, so it is worth thinking about dress and behavior that will give the protesters greater credibility and status. If police brutality generates public concern, the police or government may set up an inquiry - and protesters may enter into official channels voluntarily through making formal complaints. To better mobilize support, it is worth thinking about putting more energy into documenting and publicizing what happened.

Hope this was useful.

Joined: 8-01-11
Apr 17 2017 15:22

For reference: