Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Why I Am Not a Protestor

Expand Messages
  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Friday February 01 02:24 PM EST LA Times Why I m Not a Protester - Alienation on the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2002
    • 0 Attachment
      News for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      Friday February 01 02:24 PM EST

      LA Times

      Why I'm Not a Protester - Alienation on the political
      frontlines

      By Judith Lewis LA Weekly Writer

      ON JANUARY 20, 2001, A FRIEND AND I TRAVELED by bus from New
      York City to Washington, D.C., to protest the theft of the
      presidential election. We were not organized; we had not
      aligned ourselves in advance with an "affinity group," as
      seasoned activists advise protesters to do. We didn't have
      time. We had merely exchanged a few e-mails with a man named
      Louis Posner, who was part of something called the Voters
      Rights March -- a group that seemed, based on its Web page,
      to fill that elusive middle ground between establishment
      liberals and the latter-day anarchists who'd recently made a
      name for themselves at protests in Seattle, Philadelphia and
      Los Angeles. We figured that in the five hours it took to
      travel from Eighth Avenue and 34th Street to D.C.'s Dupont
      Circle, we would bond sufficiently with our traveling
      companions and would soon be marching arm in arm in the
      streets.

      On the bus, we learned that one woman had brought her
      16-year-old daughter to inculcate her in the art of street
      protest; a couple was using the opportunity to do a radio
      documentary on activism in America. But there was little
      camaraderie among our fellow travelers. Except for our bus
      captain, a woman named Fredda who spent most of the trip
      chattering to the man next to her about how girls have no
      instincts for competitive sports, most of the D.C.-bound
      brigade slept. Some snored. At our destination, the stern,
      no-nonsense black man who drove our bus -- the only nonwhite
      person in the crowd -- warned that we'd better return on
      time if we wanted to beat the impending blizzard; otherwise,
      we had no instructions at all. We were deposited at the
      Stadium metro station and followed the herds of sign bearers
      down to the train. By the time we emerged near Dupont
      Circle, any face vaguely familiar from our bus trip had
      vanished.

      It was a cheerlessly drizzly day, and we took the weather as
      a harbinger of ill times ahead: "Oh, Democracy," proclaimed
      a sign carried by a middle-aged woman in a rain slicker.
      "Even the heavens know to weep on this foul day." Volunteers
      from the National Organization for Women handed us signs
      that said "No 'W'" and we gladly carried them; we bought
      buttons that said "Rage Against the Coup" and cheerfully
      affixed them to our jackets. For the first time in our adult
      lives, we felt the stirrings of a resistance movement that
      would span different cultural and economic backgrounds. We
      told reporters we were helping to usher in four years of
      activism, in which a decade of frustration -- over the
      squandering of natural resources, a militarized national
      drug policy, the increasingly globalized chasm between
      wealth and poverty -- would finally find a collective
      outlet.

      OH, WE WERE NAIVE. IN ACTIVISM, AS IN HOLLYWOOD, it's all
      who you know, and truth be told, we simply lacked the
      connections to find our way to the parade route. Several
      miles of wrong turns and a few beers later -- we'd ducked
      into bars to get out of the rain -- we stood in the
      gathering storm, shivering against the wind, our teeth
      chattering and coats soaked through. We briefly joined in
      "Oh, no, I'm not ahead! Better call my brother Jeb," and at
      one point congratulated a man who carried a banner
      announcing "Jack-Booted Thugs for Bush." We had come to
      oppose an electoral process gone awry; we wanted to chant
      for voter reform and a recount. But the bleachers across the
      street from where we stood were papered with banners
      demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal. It soon occurred to
      us that we had offered ourselves up to a protest movement
      that didn't really want us.

      Toughing it out in the gathering storm had started to seem
      more like a tourist exercise than a rebellious position, and
      so before the presidential armada ever made it down
      Pennsylvania Avenue, we took shelter in the subway. Blinking
      into sputtering hail, we found ourselves almost by accident
      at a small cluster of restaurants on Capitol Hill, and
      wandered through a steam-coated door into a Thai restaurant,
      where we found empty seats, a TV and a full bar. We sat down
      and ordered mai tais and dumplings.

      Next to us, a well-dressed family of four was just finishing
      dinner. The matriarch looked in her mid-30s and wore a mink
      coat. Hearing our complaints about the cold, she offered us
      what remained of her family's appetizer. We declined, but
      this shiny-haired Kentuckian -- I'll call her Missy, because
      if that wasn't her name, it should have been -- insisted on
      finding out everything about us. Her husband's brother had
      worked for Ronald Reagan's campaign; her children had been
      collecting the signatures of celebrities attending the
      inauguration. She'd been to the Kentucky Republican Ball,
      she confessed with a roll of her eyes -- "What a bunch of
      squares!," she griped -- and wanted to know if we'd been to
      any parties ourselves.

      We hedged. "We're just visiting for the day," I offered.

      "Just for the parade?"

      "We're, uh, I mean, we came here to protest --"

      Missy grinned. And, in her generous drawl, she offered me an
      out: "You didn't want to tell me that, did you?"

      I admitted I didn't. And the three of us women -- Missy, my
      friend Lisa and me -- laughed very, very hard.

      Missy's children were diffident as good children often are,
      as was her husband -- until Missy got to listing
      celebrities. "Troy Aikman," he blurted.

      "Oh," said my friend, "he's a babe."

      "We met Bo Derek, too."

      "Is she still a 10?"

      "Nope. She's like a 7 or 8 now."

      We all found this sidesplittingly funny -- not because it
      really was, but because the other side was willing to think
      it was. Here we were, the two of us with our deteriorating
      National Organization for Women posters and a Republican
      family, laughing at everything that should have stood
      between us. They were not supposed to be making fun of their
      star-studded fund-raiser; we were not supposed to be
      objectifying women. We were conspiring in irreverence, and
      it thrilled us.

      Before Missy and her family left, she told her kids who we
      were and asked us to sign their autograph books. And so we
      did, logging our names directly under Rick Lazio's. And then
      Missy emptied the pockets of her mink coat, which were
      loaded with those chemical hand warmers you activate by
      shaking, and dumped a pile of little heat bags into each of
      our laps. We ripped them apart greedily, plastered them to
      our necks and stuck them inside our sodden jeans, and basked
      in the literal warmth of her Republican largess.

      Back on the bus, the dour and dispirited hairy-necked men
      and grooming-averse women exchanged stories of their day.
      The one who'd brought her daughter bragged about how she'd
      stepped hard on the foot of a man sporting a ten-gallon hat.
      "When he turned around, I told him, 'That's a stupid hat.'"
      Another woman complained that the TV cameras never looked
      her way, and Fredda kept up her high-pitched banter about
      the inherent evil of sports. It was snowing. We each took an
      Ambien and fell back into oblivion, convinced that Michael
      Moore was right: "The left loves humanity," he wrote once,
      "but hates people."

      I TELL THIS STORY A LOT. I TELL IT AT DINNER PARTIES; I tell
      it when someone asks me to speak on some panel; I told it
      once at a story slam at the Nuyorican Poets Café, which I
      won, in large part because so many people in the audience
      had had similar encounters with lefties. And I tell it not
      to prove that Republicans can be wise and thoughtful people,
      because, frankly, I don't think they can -- I don't
      sincerely believe that wise, responsible people cast their
      votes for a leader whose family fortune depends on the oil
      business. I tell this story because the cloud forest is
      retreating from Monteverde, because Belgrade is lousy with
      depleted uranium from U.S. bombs, because enough ice has
      melted in the Arctic that there now exists a Northwest
      Passage, and I desperately want to be part of a movement
      that can arrest our imminent slide into extinction. And
      whatever these perfect strangers from Kentucky stood for,
      however distant they were from the causes of global minimum
      wage, clean energy and sustainable peace, they were still
      able to treat people who shared almost none of their values
      without contempt. We were able to do the same, and to us,
      that was a hugely political act.

      But it is the kind of political act for which the current
      crop of activist groups -- from the Voters Rights March to
      Ramsey Clark's International Action Center -- have
      increasingly little patience. Faced with dissenting views or
      even devil's advocacy from newspaper reporters, they grow
      hostile and deny access. When I've collaborated with
      activists on the left, as I did recently on a Web site, I've
      found them willing to censor discussions or use ridicule
      when certain words make them uncomfortable. When I've
      written about them, they've been unhappy that I've focused
      on their personal struggles and not exclusively on the
      issues, and as a member of the media, I've endured their
      suspicion and scorn. Were these people ever to actually run
      the country, I complained loudly in the summer of 2000,
      while I was up in Malibu covering the Ruckus Society's
      direct-action training camp, it would be a bona fide fascist
      dictatorship.

      I worry less about them running anyone's country, however,
      than I worry about them rendering all they stand for utterly
      irrelevant. The momentum of Seattle and broad-based support
      is gone, displaced by humorless sloganeering, didactic
      skits, papier-mâché puppets and a cynical attitude toward
      potential allies in the media. Activists of all stripes have
      grown fond of the notion that mainstream media moguls direct
      corporate-whore reporters with Manchurian Candidate­like
      efficiency, but in fact freedom of information is more often
      hampered by slim resources and small staffs: At most daily
      newspapers, reporters have little time to study the
      landscape before they write; as such, they can be
      manipulated by loudmouths at press conferences and
      scientific studies of questionable merit.

      They can also be swayed by personal relationships. But such
      relationships are not likely to be cultivated, because at
      present, the direct-action movement is heavily populated by
      dilettante social theorists who are fond of quoting Thomas
      Jefferson but admit more affinity for the writings of John
      Zerzan, the 58-year-old author of Future Primitive and an
      ardent defender of the Unabomber Manifesto. In prose so
      rambling it dares you to decipher it, Zerzan cautions
      against "nice-ism," rails against the inherent evils of
      technology, and encourages us all to throw away our watches
      and stay home from work. And Zerzan's acolytes are even less
      likely than the Voters Rights people to woo the media, much
      less rookie protesters who show up in their ranks.

      To quote another famous anarchist, of a different stripe,
      "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your
      revolution." Silenced by authorities and rejected by her
      political contemporaries, Emma Goldman never succeeded in
      overturning the social contract she considered so
      dehumanizing. But she left her mark on political thought,
      because this brave and brilliant firebrand never forgot she
      was speaking to an audience. "Of late there has been a new
      spirit manifested in the youth which is growing up with the
      depression," she wrote in a 1934 essay, "Was My Life Worth
      Living?" "This spirit is more purposeful though still
      confused . . . It wants cut and dried systems of salvation
      with a wise minority to direct society on some one-way road
      to utopia. It has not yet realized that it must save
      itself."

      --
      Dan Clore
      mailto:clore@...

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      http://www.wildsidepress.com/index2.htm
      http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1587154838/thedanclorenecro

      Lord Weÿrdgliffe:
      http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/
      Necronomicon Page:
      http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/necpage.htm
      News for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      "It's a political statement -- or, rather, an
      *anti*-political statement. The symbol for *anarchy*!"
      -- Batman, explaining the circle-A graffiti, in
      _Detective Comics_ #608
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.