Protesting outside the White House is weird. I've done it several times and it always leaves me with a strange emotional mix of swelling righteousness and sinking futility.
I feel especially righteous when I get arrested, which I've been a time or two. If you're going to get arrested for protesting, there's nothing like having the White House as a backdrop. It's a great photo op. There's also something wonderfully intrusive about it. I feel like I'm getting in the big man's face.
But at the same time, it can seem rather pointless. First of all, there's all the competition. There's always somebody else protesting outside the White House and everybody's looking for the right gimmick to snare the attention-getting edge. Once, during a protest there, I saw a dozen or so people marching around dressed like obscure Star Wars characters. I don't know much about Star Wars, but that's what they looked like to me. They also all appeared to be blindfolded. I have no idea what their message was supposed to be.
Then there's the peace vigil in Lafayette Square across from the White House that's been there since 1981. Somebody sits out there every minute of every day in the bitter cold and blazing heat. I have to admire their dedication and perseverance, but then I ask myself what good it all does. Do we have world peace? No. Was whatever grievance the blindfolded Star Wars characters were airing satisfactorily addressed? My guess is probably not.
Maybe I should lighten up. Appreciate and honor the pure act of exercising my freedom of speech. But I can't. I'm too much of a sore loser. If I'm going to play, I want to win. And I don't mean moral victories. I want the change I'm protesting for to actually occur. And I want it to occur right now! Otherwise, I feel like a chump. I feel like I've seized the opportunity to stand up and be ignored.
Sometimes, outside the White House has felt like a dead zone to me. Protests are so common that if the people inside think about us at all, I imagine, it's to glibly dismiss us as crackpots as they go about their dirty business. I may think I'm getting in the big man's face, but the big man's probably not even home.
Then again, you never know. Even if protesting outside the White House feels like a crushing waste of time, you might as well give it a shot. Something beautiful might occur.
Joe Shapiro is an incredible journalist who works for National Public Radio. He's the author of the book No Pity: People with...