Barney Frank On Why Protests Don't Work

June 26, 2016

Former Congressman Barney Frank believes that if you want to see political change, don't go to a demonstration. Instead, lobby your local representatives and vote. He spoke to Steve Paulson about effective grassroots organizing, and why the gay rights movement was so successful in the US.



Environmental goals are very complex requiring the actions of government, industry, personal choices deeply rooted in American life. Causes like gay rights just require laws being changed--people don't have to act on many fronts world-wide. Gay rights can largely be accomplished by lawyers and people saying "I don't care--fine with me if gays get married"--no need to find capital to develop new less-harmful technologies, etc., etc.

Good point, Rebecca. I also think protest outside of formal democratic channels has outputs that are more important for goals which require diffuse solutions. I wish Barney Frank had shown some awareness of that distinction in this interview. I think he has shown the same blindness in his appraisal of strategy to deal with plutocracy, for which he seems to think the only necessary strategy is to be found within the Democratic Party.

I have been protesting on the streets the Tampa Bay area fairly regularly since 1982. For twelve years I was part of a weekly protest at a local plant that made H-bomb components. The plant was operated by General Electric for many years, so I also attended GE shareholders meetings. I have marched with the Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers against Taco Bell, and currently against Wendy’s and Publix markets, to get those latter companies to give tomato pickers a penny more a pound. I protested arms sales to Saudi Arabia at a local Raytheon plant. I believe it is better to direct a protest to the company making money from the situation you oppose than it is to direct it to the government. But I also protested Bush I’s first Iraq war and Bill Clinton’s sanctions against Iraq outside MacDill Air Force Base. I am part of a group that holds a protest every time the governor of Florida kills someone. My wife and I are present at gay rights events (we hold signs that say “Straight but not narrow”). have also served on souplines, and I have organized Christmas caroling at homeless shelters for the past 27 years (we call it “Still No Room in the Inn”). My church congregation is largely homeless, and I help serve a meal after church each Sunday, and I am on the board of a local homeless aid and advocacy coalition of faith-based groups. I have also knocked on doors and made phone calls for presidential, gubernatorial, mayoral and legislative candidates. I have met with Congressional and governmental agency staff members. I have also written checks for candidates and organizations I support. I have the numbers for the White House and my state and federal representatives in my phone, and I call when I hear of an issue or legislation that concerns me. In short, I live out my responsibilities as a citizen both outside and inside the political process. I admire and respect Barney Frank, but I don’t believe citizenship is either/or. I believe it is both/and, so I have tried to live by that belief.