Public opinion polls reveal that Americans are angry about the current economic, healthcare, housing and environmental crises. Polls also document that a significant majority of Americans want the federal government to do something to fix these problems. But history shows that public opinion, on its own, isn't enough to change public policy.
People have to believe not only that things should be different but also that they can be different. Anger has to be mixed with hope. And to be effective politically, that hope has to be mobilized through collective action--in elections, meetings with elected officials, petitions, e-mail campaigns, rallies, demonstrations and even, at times, civil disobedience.
Protest--including civil disobedience, demonstrations and large-scale marches--is not the same as mindless militance. It is not riots and rock-throwing. To be effective, protest must be strategic and disciplined, and it must capture the public's imagination and conscience. People must view the cause as just and empathize with the protesters. As Martin Luther King Jr. explained in his famous "Letter From Birmingham Jail," civil disobedience makes sense only when all other means of reaching decision-makers have been exhausted and people's frustrations have boiled over.
Since Obama took office, there have been very few public expressions of discontent. We've heard very little about everyday Americans--workers facing layoffs and the loss of health insurance, jobless Americans exhausting their unemployment insurance, renters facing eviction, homeowners facing foreclosures, farmers losing their farms, high school students facing cuts in school programs and college students facing rising tuition--mobilizing to demand immediate action to end their hardship and suffering.
I think he's right...