When to protest:
When the parliament of your country hustles in* a “Personal Status Law” declaring, among other things, that your husband can rape you (at least once every four days, that is), that as an 8-year old, you can be married off on a whim to a man many times your age, and that you are not permitted to live in the world freely and equally, but rather subject to the constant control of your closest male relative.
That is, when you are an un- or under-represented population being systematically discriminated against by powers that wish to exploit you for their own nefarious purposes, take to the streets, like several hundred Shi’ite Afghan women did yesterday in Kabul.
And when the group that holds power in your society floods into the streets to silence you with rocks, epithets and threats of violence against you for proclaiming your humanity, you’ll know you’re doing it right.
When not to protest:
When you get cranky about what your duly elected leaders are doing to salvage the economy (which is in the shitter in large part due to your own party’s policies), even though it will result in the lowering taxes on the vast majority of citizens (including you), because you’re programmed by the oligarchs of Fox News and couldn’t parse the terms “socialist,” “liberal,” or “fascist” if your life depended on it.
That is, if you’ve got your knickers in a twist about any governmental action and a bad understanding of American history, go gather on a street corner somewhere in your peaceful, well-to-do area, as US citizens did yesterday in cities around the nation, and rail on television against the sticky-fingered overlords who are coming to eat steal bread from your mouth, or desecrate the memory of Lincoln, or something. (Tinfoil hat optional.)
Moreover, when your absurd, embarrassingly-named protest movement, which can better be understood as astroturf rather than “grassroots,” consists of name-calling and lobbing tea bags onto the White House grounds (although maybe Michelle could use them as compost for her garden?), when you take no risk to your professional or personal safety, and when almost no one bothers to even come out to observe your sad little display, you’ll know that not only are you doing it wrong, you’re a ridiculous parody of true courage in the face of real oppression.
*As of April 17, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who signed the legislation last month, has declared that he will “in consultation with clergy of the country, [revise the law], and any article that is not in keeping with the Afghan constitution and Islamic Sharia must be removed from this law.” How…vague. Story from CNN here.