November 22, 2003

The Routinization of Social Protest

The Routinization of Social Protest (and the Perils of Fanatical Pacifism)

Check out this piece from the Nation. Pretty predictable, unremarkable fare.

Except this nugget:

"As the movement has grown, the Stop the War marches have come to feel like reunions: the same crisp placards in black, white and red, the same feeling of moral necessity, the same sense of a surprising variety of people. This one was led by Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, who had been guest of honor the previous day at a peace party hosted by Mayor Ken Livingstone. Vanessa Redgrave, unfussed about security, threaded her way through the crowd handing out leaflets for a symposium about what the war on terrorism is doing to human rights. Someone had poured red ink into the Trafalgar Square fountains so that the water looked like blood; a giant papier-mch statue of George Bush with a tiny Blair in his pocket was raised and then pulled down at the foot of Nelson's Column. There were costumes and painted faces and plenty of Americans; a young man in a suit carried a placard that read "Business Against Bush"; someone had written "Bush Go Home" in pretzels. The carnival feeling contrasted comfortingly with the stiffness of the state visit, as if we were reclaiming London for ourselves." (emphasis added)

Reunions. Peace parties. Carnivals.

Call it the routinization of social protest--alongside the fusion of protest and entertainment. Like any product--the great masses need to be enticed to play ball, ie. pick the product.

Hey, the water will run red in the fountain! There will be (groovy) music! We'll even be burning/toppling Dubya effigies. You just gotta come on down!

Frankly, I suspect, a good chunk go out of boredom, a sense of artificial bonhomie, the party/carnival vibe. (ed. note: Who knows? Maybe there is a bit of a pick up vibe at these protest venues. Hey babe, really cool placard! How 'bout a drink later?)

Sure, and to be more serious, there are doubtless many protestors who have intelligently thought out concerns about Dubya's policies who attend these rallies out of fervently held conviction. But a good dollop are there just for cheap kicks and have barely a clue what they're protesting against.

Two days after 9-11, I was in Union Square in Manhattan. People would pour into the square grieving, shocked, basically in need of some human contact outside of their (too small) apartments. The basic mood written on people's faces, ultimately, was what just happened here?

As the days went by, the Square turned into something of NY's village green or town square. Grief was changing into racuous (though always peaceful) political debate.

You would have a working-class African-American guy, maybe in his 40s, in a hard hat, fresh up from Ground Zero who scolded some upper middle class looking white NYU students holding up peace signs ("You come down to Ground Zero! You come see what I saw! You'll see if you're still holding up those signs...!" he repeatedly bellowed in anger--or was it anguish?)

A French guy, who worked at the U.N., who was (double surprise!) in favor of retaliatory action should UBL not be coughed up by Mullah Omar and gang. ("America can be pretty peaceful, but when she gets hit like this, she will hit back very, very, very hard" he noted, pounding his fist into his hand for effect and speaking approvingly).

But I'm digressing. Two more snippets more relevant to my post.

A tourist from Spain. The kind of guy who had come to NY to go clubbing at big venues like the Tunnel, Twilo, Limelight and to kick around the main drags of mallified Soho. Probably 25. Against retaliation.

Why? Because war is "creepy".

Believe me, there are a lot of that breed at the London shindigs.

There was also an intense looking American graduate student who was holding up an anti-war sign (something like "Choose Humanism, Not Nationalism", I seem to recall).

I told him that, in my view, his full-blown pacificism constituted its own form of fanaticism.

A huge, gaping 16 acre hole had just been blasted into Manhattan. At that time, we all thought upwards of 10,000 might have been incinerated in what was, finally, a de facto giant crematorium. The smell of death quite literally hung in the air all around us.

Were we to dispatch process servers to the backwaters of Kandahar province to deliver UBL a summons and hope he made it to his court date over in the Hague?

I mean, come on. Radovan Karadzic is still at large over a decade since the beginning of the wars of Yugloslav succession (a mega-embarrassment, btw, we should finally apprehend this genocidal scum). It's just not serious.

He had no convincing answers then and I doubt he would today. Yes war is horrible. We must do our utmost to prevent it. But, of course, military action is sometimes an imperative. And sure, let's debate Iraq. But when doing so, let's remember that many in the anti-war crowd had no stomach to go into Afghanistan even.

Yep, it's fanatical pacifism all right. And I'm not buying.

Yeah, even if it's a really, really cool protest. And even if someone would have really dug my anti-Bush placard.

Posted by Gregory at November 22, 2003 05:05 PM
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