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Originally published Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 8:24 PM

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Protesters need to take next step

After protests comes time to create a more politically savvy voice.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Trying to be heard can be difficult and frustrating.

That was clear Tuesday as multiple groups of people came downtown in Seattle and tried to bring attention to their causes.

People spend a lot of energy over the course of a lifetime trying to get people to do this or to not do that. In the case of all the folks who marched downtown, it's time to develop new strategies.

Babies cry when they need food or comfort because they can't use words yet.

Children may throw tantrums when their words aren't enough, when they either feel they aren't being listened to, or when they know something is bothering them, but they can't say what exactly.

Grown-ups aren't immune to frustration, and often that is a good thing. Positive change can come from frustration, but only when it's constructively channeled. The demonstrations and marches downtown were mostly nonviolent, like the march for immigration reform, or the Occupy movement.

The immigration marchers had a more focused message, which is usually best if you want to be heard. But this year's march was smaller than usual. I saw an Associated Press story that said immigration marches around the country have been shrinking, maybe because of the economy.

Occupy, on the other hand, is all about wide-ranging dissatisfaction, but many people have felt the pain Occupiers demonstrate against. Not everyone has big theories about capitalism and democracy, but most people can relate to underwater mortgages, scarce jobs, soaring college costs, broken political and economic promises, to feeling marginalized in some way.

A business can be too big to fail, and it can be too big to care.

Look for help and you get automated call centers, real people who are trained to repeat scripts, or who say, yes, I understand, but there's nothing I can do about it.

Like our food, parts of our lives have been industrialized and depersonalized.

That's part of the reason a lot of folks have turned to smaller businesses for their needs, why so many people took their accounts out of banks and moved them to credit unions.

And politics feels captive to big money more than ever. All of that drives calls for change and has people trying to figure out how to make reform happen.

Getting attention is a step. That's why people who don't have lobbyists march and stage protests.

Unfortunately, the most attention Tuesday went to vandals whose message was, well, a little difficult to decipher, a middle-finger salute I suppose.

They did manage to make everyone else look good, the peaceful protesters, the police, the mayor.

Here's Mayor Mike McGinn at his news conference Tuesday afternoon: "The First Amendment uses of 5-foot-long, 3-inch rod sticks is outweighed today by our desire to preserve public safety and confiscate weapons."

It's not quite "Dirty Harry," but it was a clear communication and one that most folks could get behind, thanks to the vandals who smashed windows and damaged cars.

Someone at a meeting I attended Tuesday evening said the media should be faulted, that journalists focused on the violent group at the expense of the other groups.

I don't know what kind of attention the protests would have gotten without the violence, but a record number of readers visited The Seattle Times online Tuesday. Many of them wouldn't have paid attention to the protests alone. The protests have become too routine to draw attention the way they did when they were new.

I know, it's not fair. Legitimate expression gets shoved aside by pointless destruction.

But there is something else, which is that in some circumstances sustained protest makes sense, but more of the same won't further the goals of Occupy, insofar as it even has goals.

The folks from Occupy and the immigration marchers have been heard, but that isn't enough. Marching and protesting need to mature into more direct action.

Translating protest into an effective, broad-based political movement with specific goals ought to be the next step for people who support the Occupy movement. Lots of small bills and individual votes still add up and speak forcefully.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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