AdinaLevin doesn't see much point in demonstrations : http://alevin.com/weblog/archives/001478.html#001478

I agree. I commented :

I think demonstrations are a decreasingly valuable form political action.

There was a time (maybe the 19th century) where the physical space in cities was so important you could put up barracades to block the streets, or storm the government building and you pretty much had taken over the city (and therefore, the country.)

Then, as the state became more technologically powerful and "informational", control of the space was less important. The army could suppress even the largest mob. The government could go elsewhere and still get on with business.

Then, in the age of television, large protests took on a new significance in symbiosis with the media. The media got a big, photogenic story, and was willing to translate that into "the people really care". Politicians and business (kind of) took notice.

However, governments appear increasingly immune to this. They realize that the "caring" of large protests doesn't necessarily show up in elections. The media has got "bored". Demos are no longer a big story. Plus, increasingly right-wing, television either diminishes the protestors or spins them negatively.

In the nineties, the anti-globalisation crowd briefly made the story interesting again with new tricks and that brought the media's attention back. Also, by more explicitly focussing on economic institutions and issues like WTO and third-world debt, they had a fresh story.

But with the media attitude shifting after 9/11 it was clear that protest in general was going to be frowned upon under the new patriotism. So it's very unlikely that demos no more than confirm that there's a bunch of (weird) people s/pissed at the government/WHO HATE AMERICA!!!!/g)

Supporters of demos claim they have another function : to help raise the consciousnes and feeling of solidarity of those who attend. Such people go back to their communities re-energised with the sense that there are thousands who think like them. In fact, given some hand waving EvolutionaryPsychology story about communities of 150, I suppose your brain is probably tricked into thinking that a couple of thousand people is the whole world ... for the duration of the demo. So it may well have this positive effect. But that's never been enough to sell it to me.

We desperately need new forms of political action.

But the other issue is that there is also a "safety in numbers" question. Given the new understanding of FourthGenerationWarfare, we can imagine how smaller groups of protestors could probably cause more trouble with targetted protest "attacks" on key infrastructural points. But it's much easier to catch and castigate as criminals, people engaged in this kind of protest, than people blocking the streets in large numbers. (Who normally have to get licensed by the police, anyway.)

Large demos have their place. But I suspect the formulaic, officially sanctioned demo is a tired cliche which has very little effect.

BenHyde likens political movements to platforms (OnPlatforms) : http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/johnrobb/2006/05/questionwhatw.html#comment-16932790

The goal of all political activism is to activation of the political muscle of the movement. The outward facing goals are always secondary. To put it in high tech terms - the highly cohesive and activated political base is like a platform; it has no goal beyond creating a rich option space for actions and a sense of urgency to take action to execute those options.

When you create a platform you select some options and highlight them to make it easier for developers to visualize what is possible. That increases their awareness of the rich option space and it acts as an accelerant on their taking action. When you create a political movement you select issues to focus on for just those reasons; but the you have different names for the actors. Activists and voters substitute for developers and users. In both cases a modicum of fear to drive people to action can be useful; with luck you can get your competing platform/movement to do things that frighten users/voters developer/voters. Microsoft did that for open source. The current immigration crack down talk has done that for the immigrate movement.