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Peace March in Portland

Excellent example of paper two by Jacklyn Ferraris.

It could be heard from blocks away. Drums, singing, chants, excitement as people gathered to march through the city of downtown Portland. On this Sunday there would be a "peace march" that would follow a specific path for thousands of people to protest the war. As I walked to the park blocks I was nervous and timid. The thought of leaving crossed my mind, but as I walked closer I realized there was an alarming amount of people. So many that I felt comfortable as if I blended in.

As the rally started I soon realized this was something big. I felt powerful, invincible. All these people sharing a common goal, to be heard. Thoughts that generally never cross my mind began to flood my body with feelings. Extreme resentment toward the all things government related in the city that I love. Police, the designated "path" they corral us to walk on, and the stoplights we must yield. That's when it set in, the realization there are so many of us. We can do anything. As the drums thumped and pounded around these thousands of people young and old, an eerie sense of deindividuation formed. A young woman suddenly stood up on a bus bench to yell, "Whose city?" then paused for a moment. Someone familiar with the chant yelled back, "OUR city." And with that the person I came as, with my timid thoughts, and quiet voice felt the rally in my heart. My beliefs and energy fed the groups fire as did there's for mine. Responsibility as a functioning citizen went out the door; our only responsibility was to spread the fire. As we marched our colorful signs and banners lined the road ways. People going about there normal routines were the outsiders, not us flamboyantly parading the streets. Another voice rose up, "fuck the police. Lets make our own route." The designated path was then left as huge groups of protesters march into the streets. Cops on horse back are being sworn at, and hit with miscellaneous items. People are now flooding into oncoming traffic. Burnside is bombarded with people not wanting to conform to a plan. As I run down the middle of the street I am compelled to join in on the chants. Everyone is feeding off each other, "to the streets!" we yell. "Our city!" After an hour or so of intense street chaos, we all gather around the justice center. Police have called in riot control. Protesters spit and threaten police, cops shielded now with pepper spray and full body gear try to get the situation under control. "Robo cops!" the crowd mocks. Slowly now over the next couple hours the cops are managing to arrest and gain back order by weakening our group in numbers. Everyone is stationary outside the justice center hundreds still left watching the situation unfold, feeling secure with our actions and the way we have behaved. As night falls our numbers dwindle, our cause and group effort slowly distinguishes. Back to reality for the vast majority of us, back to being a cooperative citizen by bed time. What happened there I ask myself on the drive home? Who was I?

"Groupthink is the tendency for group members to reach a consensus opinion, regardless of how stupid it is." (Andersen and Taylor, 2008:148). Most "groupthink" situations have several thoughts/ideas in common. As for the group I was involved in we had the illusion that we were untouchable, and not vulnerable to trouble. Storming the streets any other day would be completely out of the question, not only is it against the law, but dangerous. The group saw that anyone not included within us or those who did not agree were antagonists to our plan, our cause. Unfortunately the police doing their jobs trying to maintain order were overwhelming profiled as just this. The number one force holding us back, stepping on our toes as we wanted nothing to do with their control.

Another factor in groupthink is the discouragement to voice opinions, especially those that may clash with the groups concerns. As we stood outside the justice center the situation looked like an old time western. Protesters lined one side of the street and riot patrol lined the other. It was a stand off. The robot looking police would push the crowd back by storming forward assuring we stayed out of traffic. As they pushed the group back people spit and swung forcefully at them. In my heart I knew that we were going too far. It is one thing to run wild, be loud, and make a scene it is another to attack people personally, or stoop as low as to spit in someone's face. Is that peace I asked myself? Is this what I want to portray? No. however I did not really question anything until I was alone in my car driving home. Away from those who may pin me as being disloyal to our peace rally. From feeling powerful reinsurance from my group I went to guilt and a little bit of regret. What we were trying spread? Peace? Hardly. It is easy to say we were contradicting our gathering in the first place, through our angry actions towards innocent people and even still no one had anything to say about it.

Groupthink has proven to be frightfully common within group dynamics through out politics as well. Since most decisions are based on consensus reached between several to many people there is always room for social and group influences unfortunately. Research of some of these incidents was done by I.L. Janis. Janis investigated decisions such as the infamous Watergate scandal, to Lyndon B. Johnson's decision to send more troops to Vietnam in the 1960's (Andersen and Taylor, 2008:149). I don't believe that groupthink has to happen within every group; however it is probably very common. I believe this because when someone is undecided, or maybe doesn't have a clue it is very easy to be convinced by someone else's opinions/ideas, especially someone who seems confident. Pressure will always exist, where decisions are to be made no matter if you're the president or third grader.

My behavior through out the protest took a total turn from my norm. I went there with the intention to spread peace, be heard, and hopefully make a statement about my beliefs. After looking back on my actions, I began to realize though I was preaching the truth of how I felt my actions said otherwise. Did I consciously realize I was being influenced perhaps by others motives that were initially different than mine? No, I had no idea. Our group seemed so secure. Individual reasons for participating disappeared into a group motive that was only led by strong feelings of unity and togetherness. Right and wrong everyone's opinions blurred together. (I believe it was unclear to most especially after they left. It went from a peace rally to protesting the war to a sense of anarchy.) The idea of this can be summed with risky shift or polarization shift theory. It is associated with groups whose decisions can lead to pretty bad consequences. Much like our protest, where we disrespected common rules, and broke the law consequently ending with arrests, vandalism and violence at a peace rally! How did this happen? How did we spit in cops faces? Walk down the middle of Burnside to stop traffic? To splinter off from a designated route, only to post up in front of the justice center to protest for hours signs, banners, riot police and all. I didn't think much of it at the time because of this reason. Within that large of a group you have very little sense of being and individual. Deindividuation is a group size effect (Andersen and Taylor, 2008:150). Meaning the most people the larger the numbers the less weight you feel for in terms of responsibility of you and your actions. We were all willing to take far greater risks with the amounts of people we had because we were no longer just one person we were a group. The risks we were taking were amplified with fuel according to the numbers of people around us. By the end of the night when the rally had gone down to maybe hundred or so of us, there wasn't chanting, swearing at police or charging through traffic to be seen or heard. Why? Everyone knew with out the sheer volume of that many people once again we as individuals would be held responsible for our OWN actions. Unlike sharing responsibility through out thousands of people in a group.

Overall the experience was mind blowing I had never felt that much power with so little consequences. However after leaving they were a lot of thoughts I used checks and balances with. Although I felt more power than I obviously ever have alone, I also lost what I was there for, peace. There is good and bad to the power of groups and all that goes with it. From Risky shifts, groupthink, peer pressure, lack of individualism, all it surfaced within our group right before my eyes it was spreading like a disease to each us, and still consciously I though nothing of it for the most part. It was not until I took the time as my individual self to look over our actions, choices, and consequences to see just what kind of powerful, tricky energy was being share among the thousands of us there that day to march.