Zeynep Tufekci: “Does a Protest’s Size Matter?”

‘I participated in the antiwar protests of February 2003 — at that point, likely the largest global protest in history, with events in more than 600 cities. I assumed the United States and its allies could not ignore a protest of that size. But President George W. Bush, dismissing the protesters as a “focus group,” indeed proceeded to ignore us, and the Iraq war began soon after. Mr. Bush was right in one way: The protesters failed to transform into an electoral force capable of defeating him in the 2004 election.

In 2011, I attended the global Occupy protests, which were held in about 1,000 cities in more than 80 countries — again, likely the biggest global protest ever, at that point. Thanks in part to digital technology, those protests, too, had been organized in just a few weeks. I was optimistic that I would soon see political and economic changes in response to this large-scale expression of resistance to economic inequality. I was wrong, then, too.

Two enormous protests, two disappointing results. Similar sequences of events have played out in other parts of the world.  This doesn’t mean that protests no longer matter — they do. Nowadays, however, protests should be seen not as the culmination of an organizing effort, but as a first, potential step.’