The Action Thing

Consider these news items from the past month:

* Thousands of people took part in huge and emotional demonstrations in various Arab countries, and others with large Muslim populations, from Morocco to Indonesia, to protest the cartoons in a Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, and sundry European publications.

* Huge protests greeted President George W. Bush during his visit to India, People marched in New Delhi and Hyderabad, cities he visited, but also in other major cities including Madras, Calcutta, Bombay and Bangalore.

* Demonstrations in Pakistan, which had commenced with the Damadola bombing where the US drones bombed civilians while targetting Ayman Al Zawahiri, melded with the subsequent cartoon controversy and then morphed into anti-Bush gatherings during his short visit to Pakistan. Here too, the rallies were not only in places Bush visited, but throughout Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.

* In 2005, China had 87,000 protests, demonstrations and other “mass incidents” (International Herald Tribune, March 6, 2006).

* In Venezuela, “President Hugo Chavez’s supporters and opponents were out in force, taking advantage of the holiday and their freedom to demonstrate.” (from the Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon)

* The massive anti-cartoon protests in the Muslim world invited the derision of many of our wise men, who pooh-poohed the saps who would expend so much energy over something so silly. The anti-Bush protests in India were dismissed by commentators as an unholy combination of muslims and communists. Every protester was debunked as blind followers led by tinpot leaders, false ideologies, or plain backwardness.

Allowing that it is wasteful to spend the day standing in the sun shouting slogans against a faraway newspaper, let’s also ask: are there ever worthy reasons to protest? And if so, what might they be?

The abridgment of liberties, you reckon? The nation being committed to a criminal military adventure, would you say? Falsehood fed to the people to gain support for secret agendas, perhaps? Illegal surveillance of citizens, possibly? The death and devastation of tens of thousands, maybe? Outing a secret agent in jeopardy to settle personal scores, by some chance? The consigning of entire generations of Americans to the shackles of debt, do you think?

So, how many demonstrations against the above atrocities have you seen in the US? And what, exactly, do you suppose are we saving our protests for?

It would seem that the people in all those foreign parts hold the liberties enshrined in the US Constitution in far greater esteem than do its own citizens, even as Americans look down on others for their lack of freedoms. Imagine that for a second… We who have, without demur, countenanced members of the public being thrown out and harassed for no greater crime than wearing the wrong T-Shirt, while attending a public meeting addressed by their president, a putative ‘servant’ of the people!

Rep. John Conyers ( Why We Act) writes of this phenomenon, “For some time, I have opened some of my speeches with a fairly standard line about how great democracy is because hardly anyone votes but everyone complains. There is a new variation on this problem among some in the progressive community and it goes like this: nothing we do matters, nothing we do changes anything so why bother doing anything…”

Everyone seems to be standing around waiting for someone else to do something. The Congress and the media are favorite (and deserving) targets of much of our ire, but doesn’t each of us have the duty to ask what we are doing? What could be more cynical than diagnosing a problem in great detail and then sitting back to do nothing?

If we are really serious about our outrage, we can start by helping roll the impeachment ball up the (Capitol) Hill: Rep. Conyers has a resolution calling for a select committee to explore impeachment, complete with subpeona powers. Twenty eight House members have signed on. Has yours? Why not knock on your Representative’s door to ask that s/he join Conyers in this effort?

Thomas Jefferson held that the tree of liberty needed to be watered from time to time with the blood of martyrs. Gandhi’s book, “Satyagraha”, begins with him recounting how associates approached him saying they were willing to follow him to the gallows. He told them that it would be good enough if they followed him to jail. Poor John Conyers is only asking for a phone call.

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN can be reached at His blog is at




/>Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast.  His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave.  He may be reached at