BOSTON (CBS) – Here’s a life lesson that may seem obvious: you have to ask for what you want if you expect to get it.

It’s one of the first lessons a child learns, back when your vocabulary consists of mama, dada, and bottle. And it remains true through every stage of life.

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Want to date that cute cheerleader? No chance of that happening unless you ask her out.

Want a raise at work? Better go in and see the boss.

But while all that may sound obvious, it apparently isn’t.

For instance, what do the demonstrators who marched in downtown Boston last night want?

Ask a dozen of them and you might get a dozen different answers, most of them idealistic but vague. An end to racism, to police brutality, to unequal justice – all worthy goals.

Protesters in Boston (WBZ-TV)

Protesters in Boston (WBZ-TV)

But in order for all that energy and outcry to drive real change, it has to be more specific.

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Are you saying you want police removed from communities of color? Hope not, because that’s the last thing the folks who live there want.

Are you saying we should scrap the judicial system? And replace it with what?

Keep in mind, the most successful civil rights movements of my lifetime – the movement to end legalized segregation in the 1950s and ‘60s and the gay rights movement of the last 15 years had very specific demands for equal rights under the law. Rosa Parks knew exactly what she wanted, and had a clear plan of how to get it.

Last night’s marchers have a voice, and I bet a sympathetic audience watching from the sidelines.

But vague chants and venting are no substitute for knowing what you want and asking for it.

Listen to Jon’s commentary

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

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Jon Keller