Put another way, not all protests are created equal.
By that we mean there are some rallies that grow so very large that it becomes impossible even to count how many people are in attendance. Organized by controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the Million Man March drew people — primarily African American men — from across the United States to Washington, D.C., 20 years ago today, to bring attention to a wide range of issues affecting black communities in America.
How many people attended the Million Man March? No one knows for sure, but estimates range from 400,000 to 2 million. March organizers (responsible for the high-end estimate) were so upset by the low estimate (from the U.S. Park Police) that legal action was threatened, and from that day onward the Park Police stopped making official crowd size estimates at the National Mall.
Whether or not the Million Man March lived up to its name, numerically, is not particularly relevant. The protesters’ points were made, en masse, by virtue of their unified and visible commitment to their cause.
Innumerability, on the other hand, was not a problem for chroniclers of Wednesday’s rally against high fuel prices in the Cayman Islands.
How many people gathered near the Legislative Assembly to deliver the relevant petition to Premier Alden McLaughlin? We could be coy and say, “Not many” — but instead we’ll be blunt and state, “30 people.” (We know this because a Compass reporter counted them up, on the spot.)
The 30 people who actually showed up for Wednesday’s rally is a far cry from the 14,000 signatures on the petition against high gas prices and in favor of greater government regulation. Yes, we realize that it rained a little that morning, but if a commitment dissolves in a bit of rainwater, one might question the depth of that commitment.
What this illustrates is the varying levels of passion that people can have for or against a particular subject. It’s very easy to get people to sign a petition — “Lower gas prices? Sure, pass the pen!” It’s even easier to accumulate anonymous posts online — “Send the same comment 12 or 15 times? Sure, I will!”
What is far more difficult, and where one’s principles and beliefs are more accurately ascertained, is to get people to take time out of their day (particularly a workday) and make the effort to show up in person. Out of the 14,000 people who signed the gas prices petition, 30 people showed up – a conversion rate of .2 percent.
That’s still far more people than who signed an unrelated petition, this one in favor of changing home mortgage rules, that was presented Wednesday to North Side MLA Ezzard Miller. That petition attracted a grand total of seven signatures (Seven!) — enough, nevertheless to prompt Mr. Miller into proposing a new Mortgage Law for Cayman.
In Cayman’s recent history, however, greater things have been done with the active involvement of similarly few individuals. For example, a much-vaunted protest in Bodden Town in 2012 against the Dart Group’s landfill proposal drew fewer than 30 people. The fallout from that effort — in part because of the outsize media hype of the “protest movement” — is that, now in late 2015, Cayman is still living with the current disaster at the George Town landfill, with no solution in sight.
Confronted with loudmouths’ messages amplified by bullhorns, our lawmakers would be wise to keep in mind that noise doesn’t equate to numbers — or to reason and intelligence. Remember the axiom: A mob has no mind.
The only gathering that really matters is the one held every four years on Election Day, at polling places across Cayman.