How Many People Does It Take to Make a Protest?

Protestors in front of Congressperson Laura Richardson's branch office in Long Beach.

10:00am | Long Beach has not been a major hub in the Occupy movement. Although you wouldn't always know it from police interest, aside from the first couple of nights at Lincoln Park, and with the notable exception of the "Occupy the Ports" event and a couple of city council meetings, Occupy Long Beach has suffered from low turnout. 

Friday afternoon was a case in point, when OLB held a rally in front of Congressperson Laura Richardson's branch office in (to quote the OLB press release) "a Call to dissent of the N.D.A.A. (National Defense Authorization Act)" because it "effectively ends the bill of rights and nullifies amendments four through eight of the U.S. constitution, at the whim of military or federal order" and "grants military the unchecked power to arrest, detain, interrogate, imprison (as long as indefinitely) and even assassinate suspects, even american citizens on home soil or foreign land" [sic]. 

But perhaps it's not quite right to say that OLB showed up Friday, because the total turnout was 15 members. And "rally" -- the term used in the OLB press release -- may not be quite right, either, because the two-hour stay in front of 100 W. Broadway consisted of little more than the members standing out front with signs. A couple of members did venture up to Richardson's office -- one wielding a sign reading, "NDAA IS TERRORIST" -- but Richardson was in Washington, D.C. (They did have a brief parley.)

So, does Friday count as a protest? 

One person can conduct a protest, of course; and surely it takes more gumption to put yourself out there as part of a tiny group than to blend into a mass of humanity. But the question of protest size can't be avoided. As one OLBer posited last month, "I think they [i.e., the City] look at the size of our group and think, 'I don't really have to listen to them right now.'" 

On Friday one of the group members who did show up ("in the hopes that [Richardson] can petition the government to get rid of [a certain] clause in the NDAA" because "it gives [the government] a more free reign to detain Americans without due process and indefinitely. […] Everyone that can petition the government is a step towards getting rid of it") stated that the low attendance was due to most OLBers having committments that precluded them from being present at 3-5 p.m. on a weekday. 

"A lot of people are working," he said. "The ones that can [be available] are here. The thing with the Occupy movement is that a lot of the folks that are part of the Occupy movement do have jobs or go to school. They're not just lazy people; they're not just people without jobs. […] They come out on weekends, bigger turnouts; but during the week it's up to when they get off work or out of school." 

In December Richardson was one of the "ayes" that contributed to the passage of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2012, which has been roundly criticized by civil-rights groups as being unconstitutional on a number of counts, including its authorization of indefinite detention of American citizens without trial. 

A statement issued to the Long Beach Post from Richardson's office says the while the NDAA "was imperfect [… l]ike most bills that come to the floor for a vote," she voted in favor of it "for three principle reasons: First, it provides for troop and equipment readiness. Second, it provides much needed help and support for military families. Third, it authorizes critical investments in technology to ensure that the United States is prepared to defend against emerging threats now and in the future." 

"Occupy has realized that the corruption we're fighting is not just one place, it is in so many departments, so many levels of the government, from the White House right on down to the individual municipalities," said an OLBer who took part in the protest said. "The corruption is so ingrained in our society, [and] the people have been asleep and letting it happen. It's now ingrained itself so well that we're that we're basically being run by corporations, which is terrible. We're just trying to wake people up. We're trying to get people awake and aware of what's going on in their world." 

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