Photo: The legendary Bobby Seale speaks at Free Huey rally in Defermery Park (named by the Panthers Bobby Hutton Park) in West Oakland. “But government intimidation was nothing new. Named “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States,” by FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense stood at the vanguard of the most powerful movement for social change in America before being systemically destroyed by the United States government.” [Source]
Activism for social change — on whatever subject — relies on the sequential formula for success Research, Education, Organizing, Action. Social forums, convergences, marches and other forms of protest fall under the Education category.
Organizing for social change follows up on the awareness generated by educational events, and includes discussions of strategy and tactics that might be employed in applying the research used in educational venues. Once a plan is developed by organizers, educators and researchers, resources can be secured to implement the plan, using established social networks in mobilizing actions that accomplish the goals and objectives agreed on.
Action for social change might include engaging with a political party to elect candidates favorable to the plan, diplomacy with governing officials, and sponsoring initiatives and referendums that enact, modify or repeal public laws and policies. Other actions might include civil disobedience that confronts unjust laws and policies, as well as sabotage and armed insurrection under extreme social situations.
Protest is thus an interim step between research and organizing, not an end, but a means of generating awareness. Once awareness has been generated on a topic (as it was long ago on Climate Change), protest has outlived its usefulness, and organizing must get underway. Otherwise, protest becomes a form of entertainment, a spectacle, a means of amusement that achieves nothing important.
When protest is hijacked by covert agent provocateurs (i.e. Avaaz and 350), it becomes counterproductive, dissipating the energy of social networks, that should be applied to political organizing that leads to effective action. Protests that do nothing but make participants feel good are self-indulgent exercises; when these exercises become habitual, protest as self-expression becomes a form of psychological self-therapy, which should not be confused with political engagement.