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Marches are not effective in combatting governmental abuse of power

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/18/2014 Category: Society
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 582 times Debate No: 67311
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (5)
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Marches do not have any effect on ending institutional abuses of power. shared BoF


I accept your challenge. It appears that you do not intend the first round to involve much more than a statement of your resolution and my denial of it, so I will oblige. However, in all fairness, I will state a few assumptions/definitions that I will make/use:

1. A "march" is defined broadly to include a variety of demonstrations in which a reasonably large group of people, given the circumstances, occupy a public space.

2. "Effective" includes "having an effect," and does not demand that the effect is instant, direct, or the only factor. "Effective" does not include a judgment about whether some other act might have been more effective.

3. To "combat" means to counter, reduce, resist, draw attention to, or any other means intended to have an effect.

4. "Governmental" includes local, state, and federal, as well as the similar classifications of foreign levels of government in foreign countries. This debate is not limited to claims about what is or is not effective in the U.S.

5. "Abuse" means a use that violates due process, equal protection, human rights, is arbitrary, cruel, unusual, oppressive, or any other sense of the word "abuse" in this context.

6. "Power" includes the ostensibly legitimate power of the state, actions taken under the color of law, and plainly illegal action--the gamut of force or power over life, liberty, or property exercised by some government actor (regardless of the actor's precise employment or agency relationship with the state).

Finally, I will observe that, although it has been declared that the burden of persuasion is shared, the nature of the Pro's resolution is universal. Even on the idea that I must persuade the reader that the resolution is more likely false than true, my only burden is to persuade the reader that marches are sometimes (technically, even once) effective in combating governmental abuse of power OR that it is reasonable to believe that, in some circumstances, they might be. The most serious part of my burden is, in evaluating the past, persuading the reader that an "effect" was likely caused by a march rather than some other factor; here, it will be evident to the reader whether I have failed to establish that likelihood, or on the other hand whether my opponent has failed to credibly undermine the evidence. In any case, a suitable alternative is to persuade the reader that marches could, in some circumstances, be effective in combating governmental abuse of power, without regard to whether they have been effective to date. The burden of persuasion is shared as a recital only.

Good luck.
Debate Round No. 1


The following are definitions taken from
verb (used without object)
1. to walk with regular and measured tread, as soldiers on parade; advance in step in an organized body.
6.the distance covered in a single period of marching.
1. adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result:
2. actually in operation or in force; functioning:
verb (used with object), combated, combating or (especially British) combatted, combatting.
1. to fight or contend against; oppose vigorously:
verb (used with object), abused, abusing.
1. to use wrongly or improperly; misuse:
to abuse one's authority.
2. to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way:
3. to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign.
4. to commit sexual assault upon.
5. (Obsolete.) to deceive or mislead.
7. delegated authority; authority granted to a person or persons in a particular office or capacity:

I would be willing to participate in this debate if we can agree on the terms. The main disagreement we may have is in the way you 'broadly' define march as to include demonstrations to occupy public spaces. Actions such as sit-ins or other methods of non-violent protest are not inherently a part of marches. Marches consists of the procession of an individual or a group.
I defer to you in round 3 to make your case.
If so, Good luck to you as well


Although dictionaries are useful for the basics of definition, they are frequently inadequate to capture the sense in which a word is used in context. My definitions are the ones that I will use, but I don't think that they should be controversial. What I am trying to do is avoid a strategy of denying evidence or relevance by redefining words more narrowly.

We might come up with some agreed definition for the word "march." Again, the issue here is that I don't want to end up in situation where "march" is being arbitrarily narrowed to avoid the relevance of evidence. Certainly the recent die-ins (whether or not they are effective) could be considered "marches," just as Selma could be considered a "march," because both involve processions, even if one is punctuated by a non-processional element. Again, I don't want to end up in a debate about whether the "effective" part of a "march" was really the processional aspect. This has to be a debate about whether the "march" as a whole, not parsing out any of its arguably non-march aspects, was effective or could be effective. If we agree to that, I can agree to eliminate barricade protest strategies that don't involve some kind of procession.

I'm happy to muddle out any differences we have on definitions, in the arguments, as there's enough space.
Debate Round No. 2


If need be...we can begin a new debate after reaching agreement on the terms. However, we may generally be in accord as the intent of my argument was to prove the marches with no agenda are meaningless. If we were to include other forms or methods of non-violent protests such as group representations, sit-ins, public assemblies, withdrawals, strikes, boycotts, etc. - there would be no debate as I agree these actions can be effective in combating governmental abuse of power. My point was that marches with no purpose or additional activity are less protests and more pedestrian activity. At most good exercise ; )


Well, perhaps the best way to determine whether this is an issue we could actually debate would be for you to identify some specific marches that you believe were not effective in combating governmental abuse of power. I can propose a few marches that did combat governmental abuse of power:

1. The veteran's marches circa 1932.
2. The Selma march on Montgomery.
3. The March on Washington.
4. Ghandi's march.
5. Pride marches.

Notably, it is of course the case that these marches had agendas and were part of overarching movements that also involved other actions. As a general rule, marches are parts of overarching movements that have agendas, so restricting debate to marches that lack normal characteristics is not a fair test of the resolution.

If you could propose some examples of marches that you would like to consider, perhaps this could be debated. But if we're simply in agreement that only a march that is defined arbitrarily to support your resolution can support your resolution, I'll accept your concession. ;)
Debate Round No. 3


I agree that marches with additional agendas or actions can have a limited effect. I don't think we really have a premise on which to debate. However, recent marches have proven to be unsuccessful, largely due to the short attention span of society and a general sense of apathy regarding the political environment on the part of the masses, mistrust of the government, and a general disgust with the political machinery of the United States. Also the censorship, spin, and lopsidedness of the news coverage presented by the media that paints a skewed image of the marches and the events surrounding them. Movements like occupy wall street and the Mike Brown march were said to be sabotaged by agent provocateurs. Here are some articles that comments on the ineffectiveness of modern marches.
Not to mention the effect that lobbying has had on the general public's ability to have a voice in the political process. Many have argued that the United States is more of a corporatocracy that only represents the interests of 'big business'.


the articles you have posted are somewhat insubstantial. "Why I am not marching for Mike Brown and Ferguson" is just a bald claim that marches don't accomplish anything, accompanied by the confusingly incongruous claim that we're consumed by slactivism. The writer dismisses the efforts and participation of people today as if it has no parallels to the 1960s, when in fact today's marches and the social media attention focused on them could very well be part of changing people's attitudes. If I were feeling uncharitable, I would say that the advice in the article is to refrain from making a big stink; since I'm not, I'll just say it reads like a half-reasoned self-justification for not being outspoken in certain ways. It's a bald assertion that we're living in an age when one of the rights afforded to us in the Constitution is passe, the very right that is intended to allow the people to demonstrate in order to draw attention to important social issues when the activities recommended by the writer have failed.

The other article you cite delivers an analysis on a stunning statistic of one. Anyone can find a glib person to embarrass in the setup of an article; it does not make any of the points that follow valid. The "studies" and "stories" cited by the author are short musings, have flaws such as not considering the relevance of social media when questioning whether a march has an "audience," and themselves take positions that are contrary to the author's. For instance, the author claims that broad goals cannot be the basis of a successful protest, but does not define what is a broad goal. "National Independence," is, for instance, narrower than "Opposing British Oppression," but still broader than "Forming an Indian Democracy." In reality her sources support the contention that broad goals can work, as long as they have some specificity (my own example: "opposing structural injustice in the police actions" versus "opposing racism"). Those commentaries themselves are marked by the flaw that they assume that the individuals participating in those marches, on average, shared very specific goals. In fact, it is likely that a group driving the overarching movement had goals and that we remember the "march" as having "goals" because of the success of the march, rather than the success of the march arising out of the great mass of people having an awesome branding strategy.

In any case, you could simply review the data. If calling attention to a conflict is important, it is certainly the case that the media response that is so downplayed in the articles you cited has a real effect on raising a conflict to the forefront of people's minds. ( ) That's part of the attention and discussion that's necessary to have debate and hopefully reach a consensus. It's hard to say that consciousness of race issues hasn't become salient in recent years, and that's because of demonstrations (including marches) and how that plays with the media to drive national attention. This of course can have effects that might be inconsistent with certain presumed goals, as on issues of race where whites may have become, at least temporarily, less willing to consider the realities of structural injustice. ( Some would say that this is because a series of very public demonstrations (including marches) have gotten enough media attention to make whites feel uncomfortable at being presented with evidence of aversive racism. ( It must be remembered that pronounced opposition can precede positive changes in society and attitudes (as in the 1960s), so the elevation of today's race issues to an uncomfortable national consciousness is not inherently counter-productive in combating governmental abuses of power that create racial injustices.

Of course, I say "the" data, as if it's the only data on the only issue--but there are other issues that may play out differently. I've basically focused on the issue that your articles led off with. As you've acknowledged, in the past marches did accomplish the goal of combating governmental abuses of power. Neither you nor your articles provides any well-argued reason why marches can't still have that effect. Claiming that today's marches, unlike yesteryear's, don't have "goals" ignores the likelihood that, at any given time in the history of marches, the marching masses may be rather incoherent about a specific goal, but history remembers the victor's tale. Even though you have cited some perfunctorily dismissive articles, the data challenges the attitude expressed in those articles that marches are useless without the demonstrators having very specific goals.

Is branding important? Sure, people connect with a "why." But dismissing marches on the fact that social movements are often messy and imprecise is not a convincing argument.
Debate Round No. 4


As I stated, I agree that marches aligned with other methods of non-violent protest can be effective. However, the march itself, cannot end institutional abuses of power. Ending the abuse would also require the portion of the public in support of the governmental abuses to have a change of heart. Indeed, governmental abuse is only perpetuated when it is given credence and patronage by the governed. As the quote attributed to Edmund Burke states, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
Examples of this silently supported abuse would be the attempted genocide of the Native Americans during the European introduction into the Americas, the enslavement of many of those indigenous peoples and Africans during the trans-atlantic slave trade, Hitler's attempted genocide of the Jewish people in Germany. Marches alone would not have stopped these atrocities.
Ending governmental abuse would also most likely necessitate a change in the structure of government itself. A change that would restrain and thwart the abilities that allowed the government to act in a abusive manner. If the abuse stems from institutional programs, the power given to these programs would have to be limited or hindered.
Marches serve to shed light to issues, yet, they do not change the intent of government. For example, the United States was founded on the principle of "all men being created equal" while simultaneously endorsing slavery and discrimination of women. These are issues that the United States struggles with to this day. There have been several marches, however, institutional and hidden discrimination still remains. Until the common intent of the government and those it represents is to allow to all free access to life and unobstructed ability to exercise their natural rights, there will continue to be abuses.
As long as classes exist with preferential treatment given to some while others are dehumanized, there will be hypocrisy.
These classes serve to protect the wealthiest individuals by fostering contention and competition among the masses who fight about trivial matters and for what could be considered the crumbs on the table.

The founders of the United States had no intent of promoting equitable government:

... as the necessity of civil government gradually grows up with the acquisition of valuable property, so the principal causes which naturally introduce subordination gradually grow up with the growth of that valuable property ... Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many. The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy, to invade his possessions ... The appropriation of herds and flocks which introduced an inequality of fortune was that which first gave rise to regular government. Till there be property there can be no government, the very end of which is to secure wealth, and to defend the rich from the poor
Adam Smith

... our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.
James Madison

Marches may cause the government to change its plan of action, however , if the intent remains the same (i.e. keep a perpetual boundary between the haves and have nots) it will find ways around the march to do just that. As stated, the marches are often sabotaged by agent provocateurs, biased news coverage, etc.. My point is not that governmental abuses can't be stopped, it is simply that marches by themselves do not wield enough power to address all the intricacies that capacitate governmental abuses of power.
In the cases of the Marches in Selma and Washington, many argue that de facto segregation still exists and that integration may not have been as good as it has been touted to be. Schools are still largely segregated, voting districts are gerrymandered to make the 'black' vote as impotent as possible, and the recent shootings by cops of unarmed 'black' men continues to illustrate that 'black' life is given little worth in the eyes of the public and the legal system. The false label of 'black' itself denotes an otherness that has yet to be addressed. This otherness allows people who buy into stereotypes to see these 'black' people as less than human, criminals, etc. All of these tribal like feuds and arguments serve to distract the masses away from the real power plays that are being made by the puppeteers who pull the strings from behind the scenes. Many would say that government officials are just front men and that the people who run nations act in private and outside of public view.


Because you've introduced an entirely new claim and a host of new assertions, I will begin by addressing them.

I. You have only established a trivial position that does not support your resolution. As I sought from the outset, it is necessary to avoid a debate in which one opponent arbitrarily narrows definitions to avoid the consequences of evidence. Your resolution was that "marches are not effective in combating governmental abuse of power." Your arguments have progressively altered this claim to a resolution that "a mere nonviolent procession of individuals cannot, by itself, end a governmental abuse of power." These are completely different claims, and the evolution of your position is the result of your flight from the applicable evidence that demonstrates that marches are effective in combating governmental abuse of power (I will finalize my assertion of this positive claim later).

Your original resolution emphatically establishes that the proper context of "march" is a march as a demonstration against a governmental abuse of power. Not Macy's parades, victory processionals, and so forth (why else would we be considering your resolution?). But when examples of effective marches have been cited, your response has been to re-define a march so that it has none of the fundamental characteristics of a march (in context)--that it is part of a demonstration, that its participants have goals of one sort or another, that its leaders have agendas, and so forth.

In light of the overwhelming evidence that marches do contribute to solutions to governmental abuse of power, you have run from this evidence by concentrating on the contribution of other factors that are supposedly separable from the "march." Far from considering whether a "march" can be "effective" in "combating" a governmental abuse of power, you are now merely arguing that other factors or actions are necessary for success. That is somewhat like arguing that a collar is an ineffective means of controlling a dog during a walk, because leashes and a reasonable degree of training may also be important. No clear-thinking individual should accept either proposition. Your newly-arrived-upon position (that marches must be completely effective, alone, at ending governmental abuse of power) is completely different from your resolution.

Finally, your position seems to have morphed yet further in that you are claiming that a march cannot end all governmental abuse of power. Again, as I anticipated and sought to prevent from the outset, the purpose of this debate cannot be to test the trivial position that a single march would still leave in place the possibility of some other future abuse.

In short, you have adopted the trivial position that a single processional lacking any of the qualities that are commonly associated with a march against governmental abuse of power cannot completely end the totality of governmental abuse of power when there are no other contributing factors whatsoever. Of course it couldn't. How could it? But more importantly, who cares? Because that trivial position offers no support for your resolution.

II. Your new arguments do not establish your resolution and are often irrelevant to it. You begin by incongruously appealing to action and claiming that marches cannot help prevent various atrocities. If swaying public opinion is, as you propose, so important in combating a governmental abuse of power, then why not march in hopes of drawing attention to the abuse of power? In any case, you don't offer evidence that individuals marched against the genocides you mention--so at best you can make a bald conjecture that a march wouldn't have helped. If I granted you the point, it still wouldn't show that marches are always ineffective.

Furthermore, your claim that abuses end only when the portion of the public in support of the abuse has a change of heart is logically false. For instance, a majority of persons may oppose an abuse but not realize the extent or importance of its existence. A march draws attention to abuses and may lead people to prioritize differently--so the claim that ending an abuse absolutely must turn on a change of heart of those who support the abuse is logically false.

III. Your claims about the structure of government are irrelevant and false. You claim that ending government abuse would most likely require a change in government structure, but the question was not whether a march could end all governmental abuse. Your claim is in support of the trivial proposition that abuse remains possible within our current structure, when the resolution concerns whether marches can combat abuse. Accordingly, your arguments in this vein are irrelevant. Furthermore, they are false.

First, you claim that Adam Smith was a founder of the United States. He was not. He was born in Europe, where he was educated, where he traveled, and where he lived, taught, and wrote. Although I hate citing to Wikipedia, in this case a simple background may provide more facts than you currently have. ( Perhaps more importantly, you have taken Adam Smith's quote out of context. I leave the reader to reference his own copy of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, and instead reference this article ( as support for this brief explanation of your error. Adam Smith was, in the relevant chapter, demonstrating why civil government was necessary for the establishment of property rights when there is something more complex than a hunter-gatherer society, and how these property rights can benefit everyone. You have misquoted Smith in an attempt to show that he advocated for oppression of the poor, but that is not what he advocated.

Second, your claims about James Madison are yet another misconstruction of his full argument and its effects (here: The "permanent interest" he references is a democracy where all classes participate, not a permanent interest in protecting an opulent class. His apparent solution was not even completely adopted, and the Senate today is even further different from his proposal. Again, even ignoring the fact that you have quoted an argument about something that does not even exist, you have misquoted Madison in an attempt to show that our government is structured to preference the opulent, but the full quote actually concerns a balance of interests and the enabling of suffrage to all classes.

In short, your discussion of structure is false and, in any case, irrelevant to whether marches can contribute to solving abuses, even abuses made possible because of our social and governmental structure.

IV. Your claims about the evolution of social justice are misleading. You have claimed that injustices continue despite the civil rights reforms and laws that marches, in part, contributed to. Aside from admitting your resolution is incorrect, the basic problem with your claims is that our nation today is genuinely much different from our nation fifty or so years ago, even though I completely agree that there are still injustices, especially structural injustices, to combat. Here is one relevant statistic, since you bring up the shooting of unarmed black men. It is true that unarmed black men are shot at higher rates than whites--but consider the change since the civil rights movement ( Even though there is still work to do, the difference between whites and blacks in terms of police shootings from about 8x to about 2x. To claim that this is not an improvement is disingenuous. You also claim that Selma has accomplished little, but the data show that it has resulted in much more extensive minority participation and representation in politics. (

B. If you accept the proposition that "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing," then I propose that marching is not only an action but also a good way for good folks to draw attention to the necessity of action.

1. The march from Selma to Montgomery was politically valuable in enabling federal legislation to combat abuses against voting rights. ( The Selma march was specifically used on the federal level to justify the voting rights act, which has been associated with vastly improved levels of minority participation and representation in politics. (

2. It is a historical fact that Ghandi's march, although it did not accomplish all of its objectives, was instrumental in combating British abuses in India, precisely because the march drew great attention to the situation in India. ( Furthermore, this opposition to governmental abuse had unanticipated effects in other nations, such as the U.S., by influencing future marches. (

3. I argue that the Pride Marches have been part of keeping the LGBT community's struggle for rights in the consciousness of local communities. Over the course of the last fifty years or so, American attitudes have changed radically (, and this is likely a consequence of a number of strategies and facts--one of which is the fact that the LGBT community has made a point of reminding us that they're here, queer, and we should get used to it.

In conclusion: For sake of space I will let the remainder of my arguments stand without further defense or reiteration. Marches can be and are effective in combating abuse.
Debate Round No. 5
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by mentalist 2 years ago
It seems like what we are contemplating is the most effective means of protest and evoking change in a society that is being damaged by governmental abuses of power. I suppose the groundwork you laid out for the debate will allow for a more thorough examination. I will accept the debate if you post it in the aforementioned format.
Posted by Beagle_hugs 2 years ago
to rephrase, round 1 would be "the conditions under which demonstrations can be effective," which would include characteristics but could include more.
Posted by Beagle_hugs 2 years ago
Yes, it does seem as though there was a halfhearted exchange in the 4th round followed by an earnest salvo in the last, which wasn't quite a full 5 rounds.

If we do a reprise, we should pick something uncertain enough that it could go either way. The resolution you took up was, as written (not necessarily as intended) not defensible. But maybe if we were to debate the conditions under which demonstrations can be effective, that arena would be better for equal combat.

We would effectively take "Pro" and "Con" positions, but the first round would be us posting up our arguments (which we would agree to write ahead of time and post within minutes) about the characteristics of effective demonstrations. So the reader would be evaluating something quite different from a simple dichotomy--not a true pro/con. This round can be about 10,000 characters.

We could then have a second round evaluating each other's positions (evaluation, not advocacy). If possible, this round should be limited to only about 3000 characters.

Our third round would state any defenses and modifications we decided to make to our original positions. This round can be about 5,000 characters.

The fourth round would consist of advocacy why people should accept the "pro" or "con" position. This round can be about 10,000 characters.

The fifth round would be reserved for final remarks and clarifications. If possible, this round should be limited to only about 1000 characters.

This approach seems more fun and realistic to me, because we won't know where the first round is coming from, and the truth is that we might take radically different angles, agree with each other, and still be arguing for why ours is the best right answer.

Interest you? Or something like it?
Posted by mentalist 2 years ago
As this never entered into the realm of a true debate and we entered into (other) areas of interest, I leave it to the opponent to pose an argument with the phraseology he deems appropriate to thoroughly consider all of the issues detailed. A phraseology that would allow leeway for both I and the opponent to voice our assertions.
Posted by Mike_10-4 2 years ago
Agree! Here is how we could fix the government in DC:
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