Dozens of panlist reminders, two News articles, and a couple of conversations with protesters later, I still have no idea what Wednesday’s “We Are One” rally on the New Haven Green was meant to accomplish. The leaders claimed that there was no political agenda and that they were simply uniting people “hungry for a voice” but an incoherent, inarticulate voice isn’t much better than no voice at all.

The lede of the first News story stated that the causes the marchers were protesting included but were not limited to: “the shrinking of the American middle class, rising income inequality, high unemployment, and what some organizers called a general attack on working people.” Well, okay. I’m also against those things, but I can’t tell what the marchers expect me or DeStefano or anyone else to do about it besides hold up a sign.

Protest doesn’t always have to push a specific policy or propose solutions – there is a place for marches to raise awareness – but the goals of Wednesday’s rally were so inchoate that it’s hard to imagine City Hall was able to make out a mandate.

Most of the problems the protesters decry are not the result of malice; New Haven, like many cities, has been hit hard by a recession and some cuts must be made and/or taxes must be raised. Politicians need activists to talk about the trade-offs they prefer, both as a source of guidance and as political cover. It’s unreasonable to ask politicians to come out in favor of unpopular policies (and all recession-necessitated adjustments are unpopular) if activists aren’t willing to take a public stand on these hard choices either.