I admire Larry's voice of moderation in this discussion to calm Stuart's outrage at this challenge to the student demonstration as a tool for political change. But I feel the tool of demonstration to attract publicity and hopefully political change is being overused, misused and has become an impediment to reasonable and orderly political change. I challenge the way this tool is used today.
If you use this tool, the demonstration, the unreasoned demand, the ridiculous act to call the press's attention to some inequity or political end, you must assume that the majority of the people are on your side. For if they are not and you are challenging the existing power structure, the obvious will probably happen - the powers will come down hard.
(If you are a student, this pounding will probably not be a serious detriment to your future unless it poses a real threat to the powers in which case it will probably mean jail, attack on your friends and drastic financial penalties. But if you are a normal citizen, dependent on a job and not independently wealthy, it will probably mean poverty for you and your family.)
The use of the demonstration and the irrational demand has been used as long as I can remember. During the times of McCarthy's Unamerican Activities Committee and its attempt to stifle liberal ideas by smearing them as "Communist inspired" and the accompanying blacklists that put thousands of people out of work and caused panic around the United States.
The student population was only threatened with never being able to get a good job (which turned out to be a fairly potent threat but still didn't stop a fairly large minority from discussion). And only because McCarthy stupidly attacked the establishment did the legislature finally see the danger in letting McCarthy continue with his irresponsible attacks and finally stopped him. (I think that this was the same basic reason the Salem witch trials which were finally stopped - because they attacked the Governor's wife.) I can remember public demonstrations and that it did very little good and the publicity tended to aid McCarthy.
Rather than some outrageous acts to attract new media coverage (along with the assumption that the world will see the rightness of the cause and change the system), the students and the demonstrators should violate the particular law and demand to be sent to jail for the maximum term, refusing to pay any fine to force the prision term and they should be sure enough in the rightness of their cause that a huge number of others will continue to do the same until the jails are so crowded that even the opposition has to admit that the law must be changed (because of the drastic economic effect that it is having). If you are wrong and the public won't support the idea then you waste a year or two in jail. You can see that this will only work for very serious problems. The minor ones need to be treated through the legislature and their elections.
Right now, it appears most of the demonstrations that I see around Berkeley and San Francisco are for self-serving and publicity ends and usually do more to damage the causes they are promoting than help it. But is does often create temporary Media heros.
The most recent example of this kind of thing around here was a demonstration against Pete Stark by Senior Citizens. The groups of wealthier Seniors were objecting to the catastrophic care laws that was to increase their income tax. They could afford insurance and so they objected to paying for those who couldn't.
Pete Stark has a community meeting about once a month in the various cities in his congressional district. The group of Seniors from up in Sacramento took a chartered bus and came from out of their district into Stark's district and disrupted the town meeting by forcing the meetings to stick only to that subject.
I came to hear Stark talk about what was happening in Washington DC and what he was supporting and to see what the tone of our city was. All I got was bellyaches from selfish loudmouths who showed no respect for any ideas but their own. I felt like forming a committee to throw out any non-citizens of Alameda. It built my support for Stark and made me feel that those wealthy bellyachers should pay more than the 1500 dollar maximum.
Do the rest of you think that demonstrations are the way to get laws changed?