I’m sure that FaBlog followers are well aware of the high esteem in which I hold Eric Alterman. An Actual Liberal , not Center-Right Democrat playing a liberal the way Margaret Carlson does on TV, he’s a consistent and very welcome source of information, moral fervor, and snarky remarks.
So it’s more in sorrow than in anger —
Oh hell, it’s more in anger Eric (I was hoping against hope that you weren’t going to fall into this trap) that I turn to his latest Altercation column which he gives over to “No Bush, No Chicago ’68,” a noxious little screed by Todd Gitlin and John Passacantando, that’s otherwise available only in the hardcopy form of the August 30, 2004 issue of The Nation — and disappointing to find there as well.
Where to begin? The beginning, as usual.
The war on the other side of the world was launched with high expectations but is now widely seen as a fiasco. Young Americans are being sacrificed in hostilities whose justification once sounded high-minded but has since decayed into a farrago of political dogmas, lies and distortions.
The “high expectations” belonged entirely to the “chattering classes.” The “general public” — as usual — wasn’t consulted at all. Our massive demonstrations were completely ignored.
Americans are sometimes negligent, sometimes brutal toward the people the U.S. government is supposed to be liberating, and the latter want the former to leave.
We are always brutal. “Negligent” is the nicest way of describing our history as Noam Chomsky never fails to remind us — and the likes of Gitlin and Passacantando never fail to ignore.
Support for the war erodes at home, and the President is despised worldwide. The furies of the war echo in the furies of the anti-war movement. Despite efforts to sustain a playful mood, rage grows in activists’ hearts.
There has never been any support for this or any other war we have waged. Even WWII was marginal until Pearl Harbor. “Support” consists of manufactured “polling” results. Frame the right question and you’ll invariably get the desired answer.
Rage has become a sort of identity looking for outlets, as the Iraq stance of the Democratic nominee for President frustrates anti-war forces.
Rage is what drives ALL politics these days. Were G & P asleep during the Clinton years?
For months, demonstrators have been making plans to manifest their displeasure during the Republican convention in New York City in late August.
Peaceful demonstrators are squaring off with stiff-necked authorities over the city’s refusal to grant permission for the rally they want. Meanwhile, other demonstrators welcome a chance to provoke mayhem. Their numbers may be tiny, but the press is primed to amplify the sour notes, acting on its ingrained principle, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Authoritarian forces are ready to chortle at the resulting spectacle and swing public opinion behind them.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
Yes it’s a “twist” right out of an M. Night Shyamalan movie — and twice as predictable.
For all the differences between the Vietnam of 1968 and the Iraq of 2004, between Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush, aren’t the similarities a trifle unnerving?
Isn’t that clever? “History Repeats Itself”
And to see Not in action, get yourself a DVD of Medium Cool, Haskell Wexler’s brilliant half-drama/ half-documentary shot during that tumultuous convention. And when you do you’ll see that G & P have about as much credibility as an RNC talking head.
It was a Police Riot – plain and simple.
Red-hot rage may seem in order when the country’s values have been trampled upon by a government with a dubious claim to legitimacy. Yet the theatrics of rage can easily play into Bush’s hands. Righteousness, if not rooted in humility and focused on results–on persuasive power–will offend more than it attracts and fall victim to its own arrogance, as surely as arrogance undercuts Bush.
So the real threat isn’t our tenuously “elected” President, and an administration that has slaughtered thousands of middle-eastern peasants in the name of revenge for an attack that should have been foreseen, while destroying the U.S. econmy with the greatest deficit in history and no end in sight. No, the threat is anyone who would choose to complain about this by demonstrating in the street — “right to assembly for redress of grievances” be damned.
The power of nonviolence rests in its welcoming spirit, its power to elicit identification and its promise of reconciliation. Consider the brave young men and women of the civil rights movement, sitting with dignity at lunch counters throughout the South.
Ah yes “Dignity — Always dignity!”
In film footage of the time, you can see them attacked by uncivilized whites, who curse them, beat them–and thus reveal themselves as bullies and cowards.
No, they didn’t “reveal themselves” as anything at all. They demonstrated their power. And as G & P are loathe to recognize Might Makes Right. Of course they were brutal. Of course they were disgusting. But we can’t get angry about that, cause G & P would think so much less of us than they already do if we did.
The civilly disobedient cover themselves in self-defense but never raise their hands in anger. They appeal over their adversaries’ heads to the majority who, they believe–they have to believe–will see the justice of their cause.
And then cast Ben Kingsley to play Gandhi (psst! Might Makes Right! )
As thousands of Republicans gather to nominate Bush for re-election, and as many more protesters–perhaps fifty times more–gather to express themselves against the damage Bush is doing, Americans of all stripes will be watching. Fair-minded people can understand dignified opposition even when they disagree with it.
Just like Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont.
Rage in the streets is something else altogether. Protesters who spell “Bush” with a swastika, who smash windows, fight the police or try to block Manhattan commuters might as well stay home and send their contributions to the Republicans.
And so G & P give the game away at last. They want to supress the protest, just like Jeb Bush wants to supress the vote!
But instead of paid thugs coming to your house, G & P prefer verbal persuasion.
Needless to say, if they had the money they would come to your house too.
It is, or ought to be, so obvious that violence and chaos in the streets works to Bush’s advantage that not a few oppositionists worry about the Republicans planting their own provocateurs in the protest. Such a scenario is not farfetched.
And it ought to be obvious that everyone has been aware of that for the past 36 years! So we should stay home, right? BushCo couldn’t ask for anything more.
Provocateurs know some history, too. They know that disciplined handfuls can start riots amid turmoil. In 1968 a substantial number of the toughs who surged through the Chicago streets, inciting the police to riot, were later revealed to be police and intelligence agents. They urged violent actions, pulled down American flags, led taunts and otherwise triggered police attacks. Afterward, demonstrators exulted, equating their seduction of the cameras with victory. But most spectators who watched the clashes on TV sided with the police.
A vast oversimplification ( see Medium Cool linked above. )
Richard Nixon’s people knew what use to make of the footage. They strengthened their hold over the law-and-order vote.
Actually what happened was best described by Warren Beatty in Shampoo a film featuring no physical violence whatsoever. It’s without question one of the three greatest political films ever made in this country, the other two being the work of the same filmmaker and all around political seer.
In jittery 2004, swing voters in a country poised on a political knife-edge could again be stampeded to support the incumbent if they equate the opposition with disruption. Although we have no idea how many demonstrators are prepared to act recklessly, recent postings on anti-war Web sites suggest a go-for-broke mood among some: “If we kick their ass in the early part of the week, we’re going to inspire people to come out into the streets and join us…. Harassing the s**t out of the GOP delegates is going to create a mosaic of interesting, militant resistance.” “We need to destroy the model of what ‘normal people’ think of protest movements: all that sign-holding, standing around and chanting slogans.” “Who gives a f**k about some voter in Missouri? How about the billions around the world who are f***ing tired of the U.S.A.?”
Oooooooo! Demonstrators! Real Scary boys and girls! — as Count Floyd would say.
But nowhere near as scary as Midge Decter.
Everyone shares responsibility to avert a debacle. The police ought to be scrupulously well-behaved. The media ought to cover disruptions proportionately. Viewers must understand that the cameras are drawn to sensational excess. And the marchers need their own monitors to practice nonviolent discipline and contain any disruptors–who are, de facto, not misguided friends but opponents.
That’s G & P for you — the souls of hall monitors.
Hey, I’ll bet they got their start with Miss Togar.
Now, in a precarious time, every force in America is being tested. The Bush Administration plainly flunks. The Bloomberg administration has proved its small-mindedness. But we who oppose Bush face our own tests. If, as the whole world watches, rioters hijack the protest, the fine intentions of millions will have been canceled by the behavior of a few. Let dissent with dignity win the day and let us get on with a more perfect chapter of American history.
Or as Dora Bailey put it “She’s had so much unhappiness let’s hope this time it’s really love.”
See Eric? They just don’t make sob sister like they used to.