Dissatisfaction is growing, but dissatisfaction alone does not lead to change. The main sources of discontent are the current powers that be, against whom protest and resistance – both during and outside of times of election – are powerful instruments in order to initiate paradigm shifts. However, one can also encounter the inevitable question – what can truly be done here? Much, in fact, and the possibilities are numerous and significant.
Vladimir Lenin is often quoted when he outlines that for a revolution to take place, it is required that the lower classes do not desire the current system any longer, and that the upper classes are unable to carry on with the system of the old ways. In many European countries today, that could very well be the case, albeit slowly. Judging by the political balance sheet, so to speak, in almost all fields of socio-politics, the increasing number of protest demonstrations across Europe and the wider world points to evident dwindling support for the current political establishments. In terms of numbers, street protests in some countries are slowly but surely reaching a magnitude that can be considered potentially decisive, especially since it must be taken into account that only a fraction of these dissatisfied citizens are actively taking a rebellious stance. Nevertheless, many people are still asking themselves how effective the current protests are, and whether and to what extent one can allow oneself to protest in an environment that is increasingly repressive and hostile towards freedom of speech and expression in more and more areas of the socio-political sphere. Of course, one should by no means indulge themselves with the illusion that absolutely any of the existing left-wing and liberal power structures would voluntarily cede themselves to the will of the people.
Out of the Biedermeier Corner
To return to Lenin‘s perspective regarding the revolutions, such a situation can also be missed simply because just harbouring anti-establishment sentiment alone has little to no true leverage effect as long as the people have been withdrawn into the Biedermeier corner – i.e. a societal „comfort zone“, so to speak. However, that does not mean that everybody has to feel forced into the position of a self-sacrificing political martyr, as it were, since the possibilities for opposition are manifold and there are several low-threshold forms of protest. In principle, there is a difference between protest and resistance, not only in terms of nature, but also in terms of possible legal implications, since, in the most common understanding, resistance is distinguishable from simple protest by a degree of civil disobedience and perhaps even violation of the law itself.
What about protest behaviour from a practical point of view, aside from the theoretical considerations? Does protest as a form of activism work at all? It is very likely that the unremmitting street protests that were against proposed mandatory vaccinations against COVID-19 had contributed significantly to the abandonment of such proposals by governments. Street protests – whether through participation alone or in creative forms, such as thematic street theatre, flash mobs or the like – are a highly visible form of activism that are difficult to ignore politically once they are properly co-ordinated and reach a particular size and scale. However, many people continue to be more concerned about facing the potential disadvantages and legal consequences from participating in street protests, or potentially being physically harmed in clashes with counter-demonstrators and/or state security forces. Furthermore, a lack of mobility for some people with disabilities, transport issues, lack of personal finances, etc. may also prevent activists from reaching places of protest.
Low-Threshold Forms of Protest
Today’s political climate is strongly characterised by the fact that the behaviour of the citizens are steered by group-dynamic social pressure, in which the establishment creates a social atmosphere in which it has „thematic“ supremacy. In that regard, by just simply refusing the mainstream expressions of conformity constitutes a form of protest. For example, by consistently boycotting products of certain companies that opportunistically turn themselves into tools of established narratives, one’s own dissatisfaction already deviates from passivity. Such low-threshold acts also classify as anonymous acts, and they can be carried out by anybody. Furthermore, it is also not partifulcarly difficulty when out in public with other people to audibly ask questions about key issues that are within earshot of other bystanders. It is very likely that people within earshot will automatically start thinking about such key issues themselves as soon as they hear other people talking about them around themselves. Public speaking in any form might not be everybody’s desired method of activism, no matter how low or high profile it is, even something as simple as writing or phoning in to companies and/or authorities with significant complaints require very little effort. Regarding the latter, it is appropriate not to attack the person in charge who is taking the notes. On the contrary, it is advisable to erode the uniformity within the established apparatus, along with polarising potential breaking points, by means of substantiated presentation.
There is also a wide range of ways to strengthen protests via social media. You can use your own channels on various platforms to provide information to others, or, as a subscriber to anti-establishment channels, forward their respective news and views to your personal contacts and channels. An activist does not depend on content creators alone, but they can cite them often with a conscious will to act as an information multiplier.
Despite increasing digitalisation, letters to editors of print media are still frequently read, which means that positions deviating from the mainstream can still be made public. Even those who do not feel the impulse to write can at least put their name in to support political petitions. One crucial aspect not to forget in this context is that the personal potential for protest is often related to one´s own personal framework of conditions, which is why it is recommended to reduce dependencies in order to expand one’s own personal possibilities for action. Avoiding financial debt, maintaining savings, preserving a modest lifestyle, attaining professional qualifications that are in high demand, creating a social environment based on solidarity – these factors make it easier to risk protest by becoming less vulnerable personally.
Even a private garden party this spring can provide a subliminal platform by simply inviting a representative of a protest movement as a special guest. Setting up exhibition stands with relevant literature (books, magazines, pamphlets, etc.) is also a highly effective method of activism. A garden or street party can easily become a networking platform simply through „old school-conversation“. Furthermore, one can also leave particular magazines in the waiting rooms of institutions or on public transport for members of the public to stumble across and read. For virtually everybody, there are so many different possibilities to support protest. Even a kind of political „indulgence“ in the form of donations can be a crucial contribution to political protest, since the effectiveness of political resistance strengthens noticeably as a result of accompanying patronage. Those who take responsibility for organising protests are only as strong as the resources by which they are supported. That also applies to the “war chest”. Without pressure from the bottom, nothing will change at the top.
Sascha A. Roßmüller
ETN Vice Chairman
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