[Off Topic] But what are you protesting FOR?

[I hope you’ll pardon this very off topic post, but I read something last night that I want to pass along and it isn’t available online anywhere for me to share a link to.]

If you haven’t heard about the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, about the grand jury investigating a possible wrongful death at the hands of the local police decided not to return an indictment you must not pay much attention to the news or social media. (Whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter for another post in possibly another venue.) Last night I was reading the current issue of the Boston Bulletin, a free local paper here in the Boston area, and I read an editorial that makes a very good point about something that’s different about protests now compared with protests back in the 60’s and 70’s. For not the first time I wish this paper has a website that I could share a link to, but it turns out the only thing they have is not only hidden behind a paywall but it’s hidden so well that I only found out about it after writing their corporate parent and asked how on earth a weekly newspaper being published in the 21st century doesn’t have a website. (I have to wonder how much revenue they’re losing because they keep that little tidbit to themselves.)

I ended up typing it up myself so I could share it because I feel it’s an editorial that really needs to be read by a lot more people than the thousands of people who know about the paper and pick it up.


“Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” Marlon Brando’s character in “The Wild Ones” responds to that question with; “Whadda you got?” It is an apt metaphor for our modern addition to protests.

From Occupy Wall Street, and its Boston offshoot, to recent, local Ferguson protests it is becoming clear that activists have a new strategy: protest first, figure out what you are doing later.

The infuriating thing about the Occupy protests wasn’t the demonstrations, so much as the fact that no one could tell you what they hoped to accomplish. We heard ideas (student loans, wage gaps, wealth inequality), but not a relevant clue info how sitting in the mud of Dewey Square would resolve anything. There were no solutions, just a lot of weed and Hockey Sack.

We are conflicted when it comes to the local protests over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The protests in Ferguson are frustrating enough, with legitimate concerns overshadowed by thugs who think destroying local businesses and stealing booze is going to help matters. We are hardly convinced that Brown makes the best poster child for reforming police tactics. Frankly, there are an almost infinite number of young black men whose personal stories make a better case. Nevertheless, we understand the broader outrage in that community and the scary militarization of police we are watching evolve

But what were the protesters in Boston hoping to accomplish last week by blocking downtown traffic? Irritating drivers in the middle of the night hardly seems an effective method to make your point. It was just another case of protest now, figure out the message and the desired outcome later.

One Ferguson-related protest that actually outraged us was a national Black Friday boycott. Of course that decision to not shop hardly caused a ripple. But why was this even a thing? News flash: retailers hire folks of all colors and, in fact, there are plenty of minority-owned businesses that could have been hurt

Oh, but those big, bad business people are the enemy.

The rage against retail was in evidence this week when dozens of Roslindale residents gathered to protest plans to open a Petco Unleashed in Roslindale Square. To be very, very clear we are concerned too, especially given that Pet Cabaret has been a longstanding good neighbor to the community. But the debate, as is often the case, veered away from the specifics of that plan and into a more generalized diatribe about “chain stores.” It echoed the foolish Jamaica Plain attack on Whole Foods and that neighborhood’s ongoing effort to keep Centre Street clear of those big bad capitalists.

Plans are now afoot to draft a city ordinance that would limit the number of chains in a neighborhood business district. It is a ridiculous idea.

Only the most foolish of neighborhood activists could think it is a good idea to arbitrarily reject job-creation in this tough economic environment. Chain stores are not inherently good or bad, so let’s stop acting like they are a gateway to Hades.

If neighbors oppose Petco it is their right to do so. If the city has zoning concerns about a planned Home Depot, so be it. Don’t want Walmart to come in? By all means make your opinion heard. But let’s keep the debates specific and stop making these protests so amorphous and wrongheaded. We know you like to yell and pound your fists, just try to make all the energy you expend meaningful.