Monday, August 30, 2004

Protest yourself

I was part of the "protest" march on Sunday afternoon in New York, though what was being protested was not entirely clear. It was an opportunity to clamor about whatever world situation upsets you, so people were out protesting the occupation of ireland by Great Britain, and Venezualen dictator Hugo Chavez, and lamenting the fact that the American Socialist party is not regarded as a serious alternative. "Less sun, more shade," was my particualr favorite chant -- a sentiment which Mr. Burns, who insists that it has long been man's wish to blot out the sun, could endorse. But the lack of one single focus made the march seem to be aboutt whatever you personally wanted, meaning it was essentially about yourself, and nothing more. You shouted your favorite cause, and if people joined in, score a triumph for yourself in the "idea marketplace." But it wasn't much of a place to find solidarity, to feel like you belonged to a larger group who shared your views, to create a general chorus of meaningful dissent that might register anywhere else but among yourselves.

I would also hesitate to call it a protest not only because there was no discernible message the marchers were trying to send, but there was no actual resistence to authority, no willingness to register one's disapproval through a rejection of established rules. Subtract civil disobedience from a protest and you have a parade, which is what this was. A parade with lots of vendors set up along the route. I was pricegouged for a bottle of water, and I thought what am I protesting for if not to stop that kind of casual exploitation? That is the triumph of republican values in a nutshell; everyone should be tolerant of everyone's else's eagerness to exploit, since after all that is only "natural" of them to take advantage of a situation -- that's market conditions!

Many came dressed to impress with cleverly sloganed T-shirts and signs; some just looked fashionable, with impressive sunglasses and expensive sandals; and most had cameras, of the digital and cell-phone variety, to record themselves "making a difference." This was the main thing I observed: people relentlessly photographing themselves and their friends in front of various displays of genuine protest. Call me old-fashioned, but if you are more concerned with yourself, and capturing yourself in quasi-heroic poses of "making your voice be heard" than what you are ostensibly protesting about, then you are not a genuine protester, and are in fact part of the problem with American society, which is mainly a matter of rampant individualism, which leads to a disregard for community and shared values and civic duty, producing monstrosities like SUVs, private lawns, suburbs, gated commnuities, school-voucher systems, and other various shibboleths of the Bush Republican party. Such self-flattering regard seems to underscore the point that these "protesters" have little at stake in who wins the election beside their peace of mind and their self-righteous notion of themselves and the claim they wish to stake for radical chic (Hence, the Che Guevara T-shirt craze, the natral progression fro CBGB and Ramones shirts), and that those who really suffer at the hands of Bush's war against the poor are strangely, sadly silent.

"Limosine liberals," indeed. You get a sense of why the rural poor who would benefit from the Democratic platform reject the party; instictively retreating from something so hypocritical and self-satisfied. Maybe the protests will sharpen as the convention begins, and the lies start spewing from the podium in Madison Square garden. And at that point, Sunday's self-indulgence will be forgotten.

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