Years ago, when U.S. President Ronald Reagan was fixated on Nicaragua, a U.S. general was quoted in a Talk of the Town column in The New Yorker as saying that conditions were so ripe that a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua would be "as easy as rolling off a log."
We protested. Peace people traveled to Nicaragua to volunteer in many capacities. And in 1986, when Reagan was his most vexed and war seemed imminent, we massed in Washington, D.C. I helped Mobilization for Survival with days of nonviolence trainings and went out with a goodly crowd to the mass action meeting at the Lincoln Monument, featuring many speakers, including brilliant stentorian men like William Sloan Coffin.
Finally, a little white-haired woman stepped to the microphone and strained up to its height. Her name was Anne Braden, from Kentucky. She said, "You are about to walk to the White House to get arrested. You are from all across this country. When you go home, people are going to ask you, 'Did you do any good?' and I want you to tell them 'Yes.' And they are going to ask you, 'Do you think the president heard you?' and I want you to tell them 'No, that's not who we were talking to. We were talking to the American people.' That's what we did in the Civil Rights movement and we broke the back of Jim Crow segregation."
And that is the secret of protesting. It is a voice from the people, for the people. And it is people finally understanding that they have power. They need to learn how to help it emerge and how to wield it, but protesting is how they feel it. It is the crucial beginning of what E.P. Thompson called the logical transition from protest to resistance.
Tom Hastings is Assistant Professor and co-coordinator of the undergraduate program in Conflict Resolution at Portland (Oregon) State University, USA. He has written extensively about nonviolence and other peace and conflict topics.