Paid to Protest?

Utilizing a common critique of protesters, Russian President Putin suggested that those individuals opposing alleged election fraud  had been paid by some unnamed opposition force.  It is common for opposition to movements to deny the grassroots elements of mobilization in favor of a protest origin story that suggests people only protest when elites pay them to do so. In the past Putin himself, Syrian President Assad, and the Myanmar junta implicated the United States in organizing and paying for  protests.

Recently inside the United States people across the political spectrum have also suggested that liberal or conservative elites have paid for protests. Liberals claimed that Tea Party protester organizations portrayed as grassroots had corporate sponsors including the Koch brothers. Conservatives have claimed that Hispanic Occupy protesters in D.C. have been paid by liberal tenants’ rights organizations (see also a discussion of a Craigslist ad offering to pay Occupy Wall Street protesters). Although some claims of pay-for-protest are founded, in all cases there are other protesters whose protest was motivated by other factors besides immediate monetary gain.

This framing of protesters as uninterested & paid actors contradicts movements’ claims of widespread support. But, does it work/Is there evidence that this frame resonates in a population? If not, why is this such a common frame?

2 Comments

Filed under Daily Disruption

2 responses to “Paid to Protest?

  1. willhmoore

    The Ukrainian protest group, FEMEN, staged a protest in Kiev on 2 December against what they claim is the standard practice of paying students and pensioners to swell crowds at Ukrainian political rallies. FEMEN, which uses public nudity as the primary tool in its repertoire, strikes me as unlikely to be mistaken on that point.

    See English language story here (photos of nudity): http://bit.ly/tWQ1E2

    A single example, however, does not mean that this charge “sticks” in other cases.

    My speculation on why the frame is common is that much (most?) political speech is polemic: it preaches to the choir and makes no attempt to persuade those who are not already committed to a view. It is effective for all sides to make this allegation because it will resonate among biased observers who will readily believe that their opponents can only “buy” support.

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  2. David G. Ortiz

    Interesting post Lisa!
    As Will points out, paying people to protest is a quite common, historical, and very real practice (especially in some countries). I have been meaning to write an article (with a colleague from El Colegio de Mexico) about the self-reported incidence of this in Mexico. Of course, this practice can be heightened in corporatist and/or clientelistic countries.
    But weather it is true or not, I am willing to bet that the frame is quite effective. As Will says, it reinforces ideas of people that oppose the movement. But also, it serves to introduce doubts into the population at large about the ultimate motives of the protesters and their ties with certain elites (i.e. it questions the very grassroots nature of a movement).

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