On the Power of Peaceful Protests (Please Join One Against Banks in Chicago Oct. 25-27)

Reader and life-long Chicago resident John Bougearel asked me to reissue a post encouraging readers to participate in peaceful demonstrations during the American Bankers Association annual meeting in Chicago October 25-27. The sessions are organized by a coalition of community, consumer and labor organizations and are called “Showdown in Chicago“. You can find more details via the link.

A number of commentators are planning a series of related posts and hopefully op-ed and news articles around this time. William Black and Dean Baker are among those leading the effort.

John Bougearel reacted to something I wrote two days ago:

But per the social psychology research, this “you are in a minority, you are wrong” message DOES dissuade a lot of people. It is remarkably poisonous. And it discourages people from taking concrete action. I was surprised that some people bothered to comment on a post I put up yesterday, calling on people in the Chicago area to attend some peaceful demonstrations against the banking industry during the American Bankers Association national meeting, October 25 through 27. Some people weighed in, saying (basically) “don’t bother”.

I suppose it makes a difference whether one is old enough to remember the 1960s. Because people in large numbers got out and protested, two sets of changes that seemed impossible came about: civil rights for blacks and an end to the US involvement in Vietnam.

His comment:

I will be more than happy to be in the minority and told I am wrong. The truth of the matter is we who object are neither the minority or wrong. Being told such is intended to be dismissive and minimize our voice.

I have reached the point where it is high time to push-back on the message we are being spoon-fed and to educate and promote the message that it is time to push back on the powers that be. We can start with peaceful demonstrations in the style of MLK. What was startling watching the MLK and Malcom X video clips is how relevant their experience of being black in America relates to being middle class in America today. It is high time middle class America finds its voice and is heard above controlled messages press releases leaked to MSM.

We can not, above all, allow our voice to be drowned out by mainstream media and the powers that be who influence what is peddled through MSM. Our voices are certainly not being represented through our votes, and when that happens, it is no different than the early colonists who fought against taxation without representation. Since our votes find no voice in Congress or Capitol Hill, it is time for grassroots organizations to take over the role that was intended for our elected officials.

And I get the pseudo-protest and protest points cited above in comments, and I get the Malcolm X message, but the MLK message of non-violent protest is authentic and not pseudo as some might imagine. There is power in non-violent protest, resulting in change that can be durable and long-lasting. But an effort must be made at a grass-roots level and it must sweep through the nation.

Here are excerpts from the original post:

Dean Baker, a couple of days ago at Huffington Post, called on readers to go to Chicago to participate in peaceful protests during the annual meetings of the American Bankers Association on October 25 to 27. A coalition of community, labor, and consumer groups are organizing this “Showdown in Chicago.”

If you saw Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, a disconcerting bit was his discussion of a series of research reports put out by Citigroup for some of its asset management client in 2005 on “Plutonomy”. It argued that a world ordered to suit the whims of the top 1% was well underway. The only thing that might get in the way was that the other 99% had the force of numbers on its side.

Sometimes it takes a show of numbers to change the dynamic. As Baker pointed out:

The elites hate to acknowledge it, but when large numbers of ordinary people are moved to action, it changes the narrow political world where the elites call the shots. Inside accounts reveal the extent to which Johnson and Nixon’s conduct of the Vietnam War was constrained by the huge anti-war movement. It was the civil rights movement, not compelling arguments, that convinced members of Congress to end legal racial discrimination. More recently, the townhall meetings, dominated by people opposed to health care reform, have been a serious roadblock for those pushing reform….

A big turnout at this event can make a real difference. Just to review the scorecard, most of the country is still suffering the fallout from the bankers’ irrational exuberance of the housing bubble era. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and other forecasters expect the suffering to endure for years to come.

As we noted yesterday, ordinary people who still have jobs are often seeing their wages cut, while Wall Street, the beneficiary of rich subsidies, is expecting a banner year.

If you live in or near Chicago, see if you can organize others to join you. And dress nicely! One favorite strategy is to dismiss protestors as ruffians.

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  1. attempter

    I wish this effort well. We’ve long had the worry that internet activism might sap the will to get out there in large physical numbers, which as Baker said is a necessity if people want to effect change.

    One good thing the blogosphere and alternative media accomplishes is to fight the MSM’s totalitarian goal of instilling atomization and the sense of loneliness and futility.

    But we still do need to physically get out on the streets.

    As for the kind of commenter who agrees or pretends to agree in principle, but whose only content is “action is worthless, just shut up and do nothing”, that’s just pure nihilism which I can’t understand but I do despise. If you’re that defeatist, then why don’t you just shut up and do nothing? Unless, of course, you’re really a provocateur.

    I call them demoralization trolls, and they should be considered to be disguised pro-racketeer agents and reviled as such.

  2. AllanW

    I’ve tracked this blog for a couple of years now and thoroughly enjoy the content; I don’t always agree with the sentiments or analysis but I appreciate the tone and effort.

    Just a reminder to re-read an article by Johann Hari from a couple of months ago that echoes a few of the points made in this article. Mass protest has consistently proven to be the only effective tactic against entrenched and powerful interests.


  3. AnonymousTim


    The efficacy of mass protests has diminished dramatically over the decades, especially since the news outlets have been consolidated into only a few large mainstream media companies. Another reason for reduced efficacy is that techniques are being used by undercover provocateur cops acting as anarchists to justify the use of riot control techniques on an otherwise peaceful protests around the world. The few violent protesters make the rest look bad.



    1. DownSouth

      Anonymous Tim,

      Absolutely superb!

      I followed what happened at the Pittsburgh G-20 very closely.

      If I might add a little bit to the article you linked, it tells only half the story. For in addition to feeding us manufactured, staged news (as your story so thoroughly documents), the MSM also blocks out the real news.

      Besides the MSM’s prominent treatment of the antics of the “anarchists,” is the other half of the equation, which is the total news blackout of scenes such as these:


      Thus what the public is spoon fed is a totally distorted and defactualized account of what happened.

    2. Markel

      I don’t think ginned-up violence will work this time. In fact, it may backfire.

      First of all, the goal of this demonstration is not to change public opinion. It’s to express public opinion. And not to the media. Or Congress. But to the bankers.

      While the demonstrators are completely peaceable in intent, the bankers might not believe that. Provocateurs will only scare the bankers more. What’s so bad about that?

      Second, if the demonstration were marred by fake violence, I wouldn’t expect the American people to condemn it. They might rally behind it. That’s how angry people are.

      I think the real danger is that the media will be more clever in intentionally twisting the message. As I’ve said elsewhere–you can bet that some news network will find a passerby who is a fat, black, single mother who bought a whole apartment house with a subprime loan and a welfare check, and make her the TV spokesperson for the entire protest, which she is not even involved in.

  4. kevin de bruxelles

    Too many people swing like a wind vane to align with the dominant winds of their culture. Just how easily their moral compasses of resistance are suppressed was displayed in the psychological experiment on social conformity (length of lines) mentioned a couple of days ago on this blog. But as the dominant winds of their culture veer away from the moral north, a second group–a minority to be sure, are able to maintain the correct orientation of their arrows against the dominant flow and as a result create turbulence for their society. A third group, petty criminals and other miscreants for example, by definition almost always have their moral compasses perpendicular to the dominant winds of their culture.

    The elites build their defence against resistance through the creation of fear (in a fascist/communist society), or nihilistic distraction (in a liberal democracy), in order to loosen the moral compasses of their citizens. The elite know that if enough people hold steady against the dominant winds, the resulting turbulence will force the society back towards the moral north. Once resistance does manifest itself, the elite must then paint all resistance with the colours of the criminal third group, while simultaneously denying even the possibility of the second group’s existence.

    This is why it is important to dress well at demonstrations. For forty years the media have been denying the existence of moral protesters by building a simple two-part “us” vs. “them” narrative, with the typically roughly dressed protesters firmly ensconced in the “them” camp. This narrative has only been reinforced by the mindlessly violent actions of many of the anti-globalization protestors. It makes no difference whether these protesters were acting earnestly or were in fact paid provocateurs of the elite, the message was sent and when only two choices are given, the bystanders will react by aligning with the elite as “us”. Cladding oneself in the uniform of the bourgeoisie helps subvert the “us” vs. “them” narrative by sending the strong visual message to the audience of “us” which then reinforces the protester’s verbal message of the elite bankstas being the “them”.

  5. i on the ball patriot

    Energy and resource dissipating, no balls, milk toast, bullshit, pretend rally, that is clothed in the rhetoric of past populist heroes.

    I would not support it.

    The solutions proposed are brainwashed timid and appear to be written by the vanilla greed banking folks who are pissed that there more perniciously greedy brethren have raked in greater profits and ruined their comfy little plain old vanilla financial industry scam.

    Asking the sell out scum foxes that created this mess to right this mess is a sure sign that the organizers of this fiasco are politically clueless or are working another agenda. From their web site;

    “Our message to our elected officials is “Stand With Us.””

    Yuk! Gag me with a fucking spoon!

    Change will never be made from within. The system is designed to prevent it. When you engage the scum spawn of the illegal and immoral system you give up your power and the system remains intact. Take to the streets yes! But go for the throat. Change the two party electoral process, the gate that all of these scum bags must come through. That is the key to changing the scam ‘rule of law’. This rally wastes precious time that might otherwise be better spent on organizing a new electoral process, voter registration card burning, election boycotts, debt strikes, calls for the elimination of usury, fuck FICO rallies, calls for redeployment of troops from Afghanistan to Wall Street, etc.

    No, you are NOT in a minority, but your goals are wrong. Change them. Dress for the task at hand.

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  6. DownSouth

    Here’s one of the latest videos the students from the University of Pittsburgh have posted on their blog in regards to the G-20 protests:


    I absolutely adore the woman who first appears on the video. She’s got her facts a little messed up, but her mind and heart are certainly in the right place.

  7. Ven

    I am currently in Memphis now. I will make sure I drive to Chicago and participate.
    It high time we got off of our rear ends and did something about the the legalized pillage and the looting of this countries present and future.


  8. run75441


    A lot of sincerity in her presentation and version of an argument, I agree. I will travel from Michigan to be there also. It is high time we have a say in how thins will evolve.

  9. Stanhope

    I grew up in a protesting family, and I went to the last protest Yves endorsed. It was small and dominated by socialists/labor types, but so what? It may not be enough, it may not be exactly what is needed, but it is something, and it is therefore worth doing.

    1. sangellone

      Well that is a problem ( a demo being dominated/hijacked for partisan purposes) but here we have an issue that isn’t partisan at all. A suburban Republican, a urban NEA teacher, a truck driver, a university professor, virtually everyone is being fleeced and or their future jeopardized by this Washington/Wall St. cabal.

      Where people might have legitimate differences on how tax money should be spent we all have the same interest in seeing that, no matter how public funds are spent, they are spent for a public purpose and that the very value of our money is not debased trying to prop up private interests.

    2. Markel

      A little clarity of message might help. All of these left-of-center protests wrap every conceivable grievance into a circus act of Deaf LGBT Salvadoran Vegan Eco-Teamsters Against the War. Enough.

      How about a simple message? How about every sign with the same words and theme?


      MY JOB.”

      MY 401(K).”

      MY TAXES.”

      MY KIDS’

      MY COUNTRY.”


      See? Imagine how much more effective than the typical farce.

  10. Lavrenti Beria

    Our situation is utterly hopeless apart from mass demonstrations of this kind. No election or other device of the regime ever will bring change. The limited goals of this undertaking, to protest the grip of financial interests on our political life, were wisely set. And there can be no question of its distance from the purely partisan, regime-centered focus of the brownshirt, town hall protests of recent vintage. One hopes that as time passes the success of such efforts will bring a greater range to the announced objectives: The protest of other slaveries imposed upon us by similar masters with similar means in the arms, drug and Middle East policy realms. There will be no authentic democracy in the United States until the grip of these vermin is broken.

  11. bob


    Since most of the world is seen as fertile ground to serve these people, through debt or employment, dress the part.

    White shirt, black pants.

    Protests can get messy, cleaning up after these animals is no different.

    There are other practical reasons for the dress code.

  12. ArmchairRevolutionary

    While I support your goals and hope you are right that peaceful protest can achieve the needed change; I do not think you are correct.

    “War was constrained by the huge anti-war movement. It was the civil rights movement, …” I think it is more about business. War and conflict are bad for business (despite those that claim that WWII got us out of the great depression). War and conflict always cause a massive loss of resources and for simple business reasons will come to an end.

    The most achieved by mass protest will be a few public largely meaningless gestures of reform. I think we are seeing that now with health care reform. The Democrats know they have to deliver something; they just don’t want to deliver anything real. For banking, we might get a few perp walks and some meaningless regulation changes.

    If you want to cause real change, do the following: If you are underwater in your home mortgage, stop paying. If you are carrying a large credit card balance (more than two years for you to pay back), quit paying and go all cash. Remove your money from TARP banks. Pull your 401K and put it into a mixed bag of foreign currencies (refuse to pay any IRS penalties early withdrawals as they are acting now much like Enron was acting towards their employees). This is truly the non-violent way to realize change.

  13. Siggy

    Mass protests while helpful are not what moves the political will. For this coming mid-term election, the electorate would be very wise to as nearly as possible vote out the encumbent poltroons who have sold their vote and their soul to the minions of Wall Street.

    As much effort as possible must be made to impress on the Congress and this Administration that financial reform is not simply desirable but mandatory. What is needed is the reinstatement of Glass-Steagell. Existing fraud laws must be prosecuted. AIG has committed the most massive fraud imaginable and yet there is not one scintilla of a fraud prosecution being persued by the Justice Department.

    Recognize that Wall Street will not go quietly unless and until there are prosecutions. The recent insider trading arrests should be seen as a marginal beginning. Fair warning to Wall Street could be set by hiring 5,000 financial investigators for the Justice Department. If we do not uphold the laws that exist, we will complete the trip to becoming a banana republic! We have very little time to begin to correct this problem.

    1. Lavrenti Beria

      “Mass protests while helpful are not what moves the political will. For this coming mid-term election, the electorate would be very wise to as nearly as possible vote out the encumbent poltroons who have sold their vote and their soul to the minions of Wall Street.”

      Now you just have to be kidding, make an appeal to the “political will” of the very vermin at the heart of the problem, appeal to their self interest? Kind of Uncle Tom when you think about it, eh? We just had an election in which control of congress was passed from one set of criminal incumbants to another and has that made any difference? When you’re dealing with filth like these, one wisely considers the insights of Joseph Stalin on the question of elections:

      “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”

      And if you don’t think that such an analysis applies in this instance, ask Ralph Nader or Chuck Baldwin.

      You presuppose that the system is reformable and that, sir, is your error. If it isn’t clear to you as yet that we’re in a dictatorship compleat with ruling clique and peons, ask yourself how it is that anti-Iranian measures brought to the House routinely pass with less than 5 opposing votes. That’ll remind you of Joe Stalin in no uncertain terms.

  14. joebhed

    The banks?
    Protesting the banks?
    What we need to protest is the debt-money SYSTEM of the private Federal Reserve bankers.

    That is how they hold the economy and the well-being of the people of this country by the throat, without a bit if hesitancy to give it the squeeze in order to perpetuate itself, and its non-regulated shadow banking brothers.

    Bernanke says we can’t have the government, or the people, questioning whether and how the monetary policies of these Fed bankers not only failed to prevent, but actually CAUSED, the financial crisis- you know by auditing the Fed – he actually says this may result in the trashing of the dollar(if necessary), the massive deepening of the financial crisis (if necessary) and the destruction of our financial “SITUATION” (if necessary).

    So, if you’re going to Chicago to protest the banks, here’s a clue. They don’t care. They can withstand any regulations you can throw at them until the next round of deregulation.
    And then they’ll do it all over again, and the grandkids can go protesting.
    Either that, or put an end to the debt-money system of the private bankers of the world, by demanding a change to economic democracy through a people’s money system – an equity-based money system – the Money System Common.
    It’s OUR money system.

    1. Steve2241

      Would you prefer protests outside the private residence of each member of the Federal Reserve Board?

      1. joebhed

        Sorry I didn’t make it clear.
        The protests at the ABA meeting, the Chicago or Washington Feds are meaningless, and ultimately ineffective in the populist surge for economic democracy, because the regulate-deregulate cycle is one of the minor punches with which the bankers must periodically roll.

        When that populism becomes informed about the debt-money system, and the function of money-creation within the money system, they will be demanding an alternative to the private creation of the circulating medium.
        A new money system.
        And then we’ll get somewhere.

  15. ArmchairRevolutionary


    I think this not because, the protest itself will work, but because of the connection of people that can occur there. If the protesters leave with a concrete goal of how to challenge this system, they can break it.

    For example if 20,000 people show up and they are given my previously stated goal of:

    If you are underwater in your home mortgage, stop paying. If you are carrying a large credit card balance (more than two years for you to pay back), quit paying and go all cash. Remove your money from TARP banks. Pull your 401K and put it into a mixed bag of foreign currencies (refuse to pay any IRS penalties early withdrawals as they are acting now much like Enron was acting towards their employees).

    If those 20,000 people commit to following the above themselves and finding 10 people to act and recruit in the same manner; we will resolve our banking issue by December. Then we can focus on solving our many other issues.

    The choice is clear: non-violent revolution, violent revolution or servitude. Non-violent revolution can work. Let’s go that way.

    1. Peripheral Visionary

      I agree, and I support this protest. The media will likely pull its usual trick of focusing on the most outrageous of protestors, but to the extent that people get active and moving in the right direction, it will be a good thing.

      If real change comes, it will likely have to happen in the primaries. The politicians in thrall of the entrenched interests are often those who come from “safe” districts where they face no real challenge to their office, as the voters in their district will “never” vote for the other party. The only way to effect change will be at the primary level; but to do so requires people to be in motion in a real grass-roots effort.

      One example of that would be the case of Chris Cannon (R-Utah), in his time one of the best friends of corporate America in Washington. He hailed from a “safe”, solidly Republican district, and it quickly became apparent that he had little accountability to his constituency, under the reasoning that they would never vote for the Democratic candidate. They didn’t–but when he defied his constituency on immigration, they put together a grass-roots campaign and threw him out in the primary, snubbing the Party insiders and voting in populist firebrand Jason Chafetz in his place. Regardless of your views on Cannon, Chafetz, or immigration reform, it’s a textbook example of enforcing real accountability and change, through a grass-roots campaign at the primary level. If the people can be put into motion, Cannon will not be the only incumbent facing an unexpected challenge.

  16. Vinny G.

    “…peaceful demonstrations against the banking industry during the American Bankers Association national meeting, October 25 through 27.”

    What?! You mean I can’t take my pitchfork with me?!
    Sorry then, I think I’ll stay home and watch Oprah.

    Vinny G.

  17. Peter T


    I would like to go, but the drive to Chicago is simply too long to fit in with work and family. Tell me if there is a demonstration in the Twin Cities, and I’ll go.

  18. sharonsj

    I’m too far from Chicago and too handicapped. But I’m with all of you who now understand that just sitting around and whining gets you nothing. Unless the powers that be are scared shitless, nothing will change. We need a new motto like: Got Pitchfork?

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