Like me, Pamela Paul isn’t interested in gathering with other like-minded people to protest, well, anything. In a NY Times op-ed, she writes:

Don’t take it personally, but I don’t want to go to your protest. This isn’t a commentary about your particular movement or about the anti-Israel rallies this past academic year. I don’t care how foolish or noble the cause. When it comes to gathering in large groups and yelling, you can count me out.

I did try it once. My first and last protest was freshman year of college when some women I liked were organizing a pro-choice rally. The cause was solid, it seemed like a decent way to solidify the friendships and I enjoy using magic markers.

But standing on the campus green of our overwhelmingly liberal university brandishing a broken hanger struck me as not only futile but ridiculous. The only mind that was changed by that protest was mine — about participating in protests. After 40 minutes or so, I left to go to the bathroom. Later, I signed up to escort patients at a local abortion clinic. There are better ways, I realized, to effect change.

When I was much younger, I attended a few protests. Being surrounded by others trying to change the world made me feel better. But I always had serious doubts that such events were effective in changing policies put in place by politicians I deeply disagreed with.

Over the years, witnessing all sorts of protests against any number of perceived evils, I came to the conclusion that if the goal is truly to alter the landscape, then the vast majority of protests are a waste of time and effort. Because the only way to actually achieve political change is by voting.

That includes the climate activists who spray-painted Stonehenge yesterday because they want the world to stop using fossil fuels. Or the ones who threw soup on the Mona Lisa. Or others who glued themselves to the stands at the US Open last year.

None of them accomplished anything. Not one single policy was changed. The protesters came off as three year olds whining noisily after their parents have told them it’s time to turn off the TV and go to bed. As I wrote last year:

I’m not saying all protests are useless. Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington, where Dr. King gave his I Have A Dream speech. The crowd of onlookers numbered more than a quarter-million, and the coverage helped change public attitudes, which put pressure on politicians — just as King’s march from Selma to Montgomery had several years earlier.

The same was true of similar mass protests against the Vietnam War, two of which I attended as a kid with my parents in the late 1960s, traveling by bus more than five hours to join the sea of people that filled the National Mall. But you need that kind of scale to achieve change.

In various cities, I’ve come across solitary religious people standing their ground on the sidewalk and holding up hand-scrawled signs while urging passersby through a bullhorn to repent and follow the teachings of their imaginary deity. Not once have I seen anyone stop and pay attention to them, let alone repent right there and then.

Several times in the last decade, there have been groups of people who stretched themselves across interstate highways to promote their agenda. Right or wrong as they may have been, all they did was piss off drivers trying to get home after a hard day of work. Nothing else changed.

Back to Pamela Paul:

Protests are about operating in unison and I find that creepy. Back in the early 90s, I visited college friends in Washington, D.C. It happened to be the Fourth of July and so we headed to the National Mall to celebrate. I was stunned to find people passionately yelling en masse, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” What, I wondered, was the alternative? Who’s the other team?

I realize we live in a country born of protest and my attitude may seem vaguely un-American. Watching the rabble-rousers on HBO’s “John Adams” during Covid lockdown, my first grumbly thought was, “Stop whining and pay your taxes!” Reading about the Whiskey Rebellion made me think of drunken MAGA types sloganeering at a Trump rally about the glory of firearms. (I do make a sentimental exception for revolutions set to music, especially when French.)

Speaking of history, I can’t say I’d relish hollering alongside people who’ve only studied it on TikTok. But those of us who read about it in, say, books, usually come to understand that even factual history is complicated, nuanced and full of boring and endless repetition.

Read her entire piece here.