Protest or demonstrate? They ain’t the same thing

When Gandhi and his comrades marched to the sea and made salt in defiance of the British Imperial ban on salt-making that was making a demonstration, not a protest. This distinction is important: A protest merely involves some wailing over injustice followed by self-congratulatory back-patting, while a demonstration involves defiance of the system of repression. A demonstration like Gandhi’s both shows the outrage of the Indian people against British imperialism and demonstrates that India had the power and ability to manufacture its own salt and bypass the British ban. This was also the case in American protests against the Vietnam War; when the people sang songs and cried over the dead, that was a protest; when people burned their draft cards, that was a demonstration. The demonstration shows that one has the will and the power to throw off oppression and to act as a free being. A demonstration should be either a direct act of defiance, or the laying of concrete plans to carry forth a struggle.
The demonstration is not to be confused with a riot; a riot occurs when the revolutionary energy of a people has no constructive outlet, and it does not win people over to the side of the rioters. People are moved by the sight of a co-ordinated and organised strong group of people, they are moved to take more freedom in their own lives by demonstrations. Riots make people feel helpless because they do not end in social change, they are, as it were, a waste of violence. The demonstration should demonstrate the power of the organized masses for the purpose of winning fence-sitters over to their side. It should also function to build confidence and the feeling of power in the people who participate in it. These feelings will serve to construct an identity and a culture of equality among people all over the world.

Life without Dead Time
Edward in Tokyo
Adbusters #73, Sept/Oct 2007


UPDATE: I guess then, that protests (and riots) re-inforce the system/allow it to re-inforce itself.  Whereas a successful demonstration is, or has the potential to be, transruptive.

See also-
The smugosphere
Take your bloody marches and shove them up your arse
Chomsky “On Resistance” and an exchange following on from that.

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9 Responses to Protest or demonstrate? They ain’t the same thing

  1. Antonio Dias says:

    This is an important distinction, presented very clearly. It explains and justifies the impatience with protest you’ve shown here, which I share.

    I must admit, reading the section on riots, I was hearing, Herr Police Chief from “Young Frankenstein,”

    “A Riot is a TERRIBLE Thing! Unt I think it’s about time we had one!”

    Seriously, thanks for this.

    • dwighttowers says:

      When I read this last night (on the stepper at the gym) I thought a) why don’t they teach this stuff in school b) I had better blog this straight away.

      All best wishes

      Dwight Towers

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  5. pendantry says:

    … a riot occurs when the revolutionary energy of a people has no constructive outlet…

    … or when heavy-handed military police step in…

    …and it does not win people over to the side of the rioters

    … a thing that those who provoke riots* know all too well.

    *Probably stating the bleeding obvious, but such people are not always ‘the bad guys’ — which needs a further caveat; ‘bad’ depends upon one’s point of view.

  6. Hi Mr. Towers!

    I’m at grad student at NYU and I’m writing a paper about how the words “protest/protesters” and “demonstration/demonstrators” are used to describe the Israel-Hamas conflict. I came across your great blog post and I was wondering if 1.) I could quote from this post and 2.) if this was featured in Adbusters, since the end includes the tag:

    Life without Dead Time
    Edward in Tokyo
    Adbusters #73, Sept/Oct 2007

    I went on the Adbusters website and looked at its archive and wasn’t able to look at the individual articles.

    Please let me know and keep up the great work!



    • dwighttowers says:

      sorry for the delay in approving the comment! Yes, that’s fine, and good luck!!!

      PS It did indeed appear in that Adbusters issue. If you need it, and I have the time, I could try to find it?

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