I knew what I was learning,
That I ain’t marching anymore.
What was Ochs learning? Was he learning something, not only about the futility of war and his reasons for not wanting to take part? Was he also learning something about himself, and the act of marching? Perhaps? Perhaps not?
I have. I have learnt something about protest marches. I have learnt something about marching – and chanting as I march along. I have learned that marching (and chanting) as a form of protest is personally unhealthy, and possibly even contributing to a world that I do not want. What follows is my personal reasons for no longer participating in protest marches. If you, dear reader, wish to withdraw from such marches for similar reasons, then that is your choice. Here, I am not suggesting that those seeking a more just world discontinue marching. I do not have the answers. All I know is what I have learned. All I know is the impact marching has upon my psyche and my interactions with those around me. So, with that caveat, here are some of the things I have learned:
· Marching and chanting tends to be highly confrontational. It sets up an us versus them mentality. Yes, perhaps confrontation is needed. I want to participate in confrontations with the act not with the actor. Yet, marching (and its associated chanting) too often results in confronting people, other human beings, instead of engaging with the issues.
· Marching has a militaristic connotation. For me, militarism is one of the major obstacles in our way towards a more just, and peaceful world. I do not wish to evoke one of its features in any protest.
· There has long been debates as to whether the ends justify the means. I won’t go into a discussion of those debates here, suffice to say that many of us in social justice movements over the past half century or more have come to understand that there is no distinction. Means and ends are the same thing. Means are simply ends in the making. Marching and chanting disregards this understanding.
· Marching enables the marcher to point the finger elsewhere, to shift the blame. Yet, we are all participants in, and proponents of, the systems that we wish to change. As Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (in The Gulag Archipelago) noted, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.” We are all culpable to some degree. Marching tends to suggest that I, as a marcher, bear no responsibility.
· Marching seems to elicit “boos” and jeers, and shouts of “shame.” Hurling abuse seems to me to be unbecoming of someone seeking a more humane society. Verbal abuse is not an element of a society I aspire towards. I would rather have no part of such abuse.
· The five statements above could all be summarised by suggesting that marching maintains the myth of separation. It separates me, as marcher, from the non-marcher and from the “object” I am marching against. The myth of separation is possibly the single most potent factor spawning the problems we face in the world.
Learning from neuropsychology
Over the past half-century or more our understanding of neuroscience and neuropsychology has grown significantly. We now understand a lot more about how our mental images and the stories we tell ourselves come to influence our behaviours and beliefs. And vice versa.
When I add the understandings of neuropsychology to the statements above, I have to conclude that marching has an unhealthy impact upon my psyche and my mental state. That unhealthy state cannot help but impact upon the world around me. Hence, I choose to not march.
I ain't marching (off to war) anymore.
I Still Protest
I still wish to place my witness in front of (the literal meaning of protest) issues and problems that I consider to be unjust or wrong. How do we do that if old forms of protest are unhealthy, and possibly counter-productive?
David Suzuki (the highly respected environmentalist and science commentator) has pondered this also. In his autobiography he states,
“It is clear that the old ways of confrontation, protests, and demonstrations so vital from the 1960s through the 80s, have become less compelling to a public jaded by sensational stories of violence, terror, and sex. We need new alliances and partnerships and ways of informing people.”2
I concur with him. We need to be more creative and find life-affirming ways of testifying our disagreement with policies, procedures, and practices that are dehumanising and destroying the Earth.
Meanwhile, I will attend rallies, I will listen to the speeches, I will condemn acts of oppression and degradation of the environment. However…
I Ain’t Marching Anymore.
1. Phil Ochs, I Ain’t Marching Anymore, Elektra Records, 1965. Phil Ochs performed at many protest rallies during the 1960s and 70s. Sadly, he succumbed to depression and committed suicide in 1976. I must admit that he may not have agreed with not marching anymore, in the sense I have written here. If so, then my apologies to you Phil Ochs.2. David Suzuki, David Suzuki: The Autobiography, Greystone Books, Vancouver B.C., Canada, 2006.