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Mass for the Twisted and Remedial: Protestors in Chicago
by Bernard Chapin
25 March 2004

Bernard Chapin reports from the front lines: regardless of their Guillotinic impulses, the protesters harmed no one and not even an Enigma machine could have derived meaning from the cacophony that was their voices.

If Allen Ginsberg were breathing and conservative, he’d undoubtedly begin his remembrance of Saturday’s Chicago protest march with lines like, “I saw the worst minds of my generation further demeaned by guilt, socialism, vegetarianism, and bad hygiene while in the thrall of an irritable internationalist cabal of leftists.  They bared their brains to Heaven under the El and discovered their organs worthless, amid zucchini-topped musicians and ukulele artists worshiping Mohammedan angels under the veneer of self-righteousness.”  

But, since I’m alive and not the chanting poet, I’ll begin by saying that apart from Communists, Socialists, Palestinians and pseudo-Christians, there may well have been a few participants at the rally who actually cared about peace -- but I have no evidence for such an assumption.

It may seem reactionary or McCarthyistic to use words like “communist” and “socialist” to describe those in attendance, but anyone familiar with International ANSWER will understand why avoiding those terms is to deliberately mislead. 

The first thing I did upon arrival at Federal Plaza was to inventory the organizations that had wares for sale on tables around the square.  The sponsor names read like a 1940s NKVD contact list.  Had I not seen the placards with my own eyes it would be easy to question the presence of groups like the Internationalist Socialist Organization, The Socialist Workers Party, and the Spartacist League SYC.  Numerous fellow travelers were also on display like Not in Our Name, Code Pink, Pacifica Radio, Hempfest, and an organization of unknown origin selling “No ROTC” items. 

A survey of the books they sold confirmed their hard left tilt, as Chomsky was everywhere, along with Zinn and titles like Is Biology Women’s Destiny? and Socialism on Trial.

For those readers who only saw snippets of the event on the news, let me inform you that moderate Democrats would have been no more welcome at the event than I.  A man walked through the square shouting, “socialism not war” and the marchers, as they approached on Adams Street, overtly called for “socialism now” and that “Democrats are not the answer.”  Yet, one Democrat who might have been was Dennis Kucinich, as his supporters were ubiquitous.  Kucinich paraphernalia adorned many an objector and even one Howard Dean advocate was found roaming the crowd. 

If one hadn’t heard any media reports or seen any hype it would have been hard to know exactly what all of this strife concerned.  There seemed to be more mention of Palestine than of Iraq.

In fact, the Palestinian flag was prominently waved by many and I saw several young girls wearing t-shirts with “Intifada” embroidered across their chests.   Signs urged us to “End the Occupation of Palestine.”  It was even with slight amusement that I overheard some of the Arabs, or wannabes, edit and sing an old sixties mantra.  They bellowed, “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Occupation Has Got to Go.”  

Perhaps to a resident of red state America, there would have been no more profound oddity than the sight of Zucchini-topped band members gliding about with trumpets, a tuba, tambourines, bongos and kettle drums made out of plastic containers.  I asked one of the bandpersons what was up with their vegetable headpieces.  He answered, “No, this isn’t zucchini.  It’s a spring flower.  It symbolizes spring flowers.”

I did manage to ask a few worthwhile journalistic questions while I was there.  A police Sergeant told me that between 500 and 600 of his brethren were collecting overtime pay that afternoon.  I also approached a young man to inquire why he, and so many others, wore bandanna masks that day.  He said that they were being used to combat the authorities who videotaped them.  It seemed a rather unheroic answer but was certainly in keeping with the complete lack of violence or disorderly behavior I witnessed.

Cliches of every variety abounded.  My Congressman, Danny Davis, made an appearance and was joined onstage by the famous shakedown artist and race baiter, Jesse Jackson.  More humorously, at the back of the square, I observed a circle of would be revolutionaries playing a vigorous bourgeois game of hacky sack.  
Although much of what was old was trotted out again, this was a very different event than the march that occurred last year.  There were not nearly as many people overall and most of those present were the hard and the core, but, more importantly, there were few conservatives there to act as a counterweight to the radicalism.

For me this was the real story behind the march and undeniable proof that President Bush’s base has eroded.  In March of 2003, patriots stuck American flags in the hands of every willing person and young men approached the protester barricades to berate them while we had our own stage and speakers.  Sadly, this year there was none of that.

Other than a few guys from freerepublic.com who mocked the socialistniks and several members from the Evanston and Chicago branches of Protest Warrior, there wasn’t much of a response to the panorama of gasmask wearers, “FUSH BUCK” buttons and signs reading “No Son of a Bush in the White House,” “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” and “Regime Change 2004.”

Even the bikers who revved up and down Dearborn Street last year were greatly diminished.  No more than ten were present and the protestors had the sense to generally avoid them.  Yet, as I tried to photograph the former Vietnam soldiers and motorcycle enthusiasts, one woman did approach and attempt to convince them to mark a “Peace Now” box that she said would be on the ballot in November.  She claimed that by doing so we’d be promoting peace.  I had put up with these individuals for several hours but finally could bear no more.  I asked her, “Are you going to get Al Qaeda to mark the same box?  How about the Taliban?”  She then turned to the bikers who politely ignored her. 

One of the more unique moments occurred when Bishop James Wilkowski of the Independent Evangelical Catholic Church of America gave a Mass at the back of the square for the benefit of our troops still in the field and also for those who had served their country (as opposed to those twisted and remedial).  He made sure to state as a disclaimer that he was not there to discuss politics but simply to celebrate our soldiers in the field.  What he failed to realize is that purely by being there and celebrating our soldiers he had made an important political point. 

My friend and blogmate Yakov Bok (a.k.a. “Common Sense”) was present and another of the few who had come to back our foreign policy and soldiers.  Unlike me, he was more there to antagonize than observe.  He held high a sign poking fun of ANSWER and also one sarcastically deploring the loss of Saddam from the marketplace of international terror.  He was uncharacteristically pleased to see me, and I think would have preferred it if I would have put down my pen to better act as his bodyguard.

Yakov wouldn’t have needed any backup if he had merely accepted the comments of passersby.  Instead, he yelled back at them.  His highlight of the afternoon came when an anarchist threatened to kill him, but my highlight of his afternoon came when a group of college leftists interviewed him for a documentary they were making for indymedia.org.  They expected him to be on the defensive.  They were wrong.  “Oh you’re from indymedia?”  He barked.  “Then you’re all a bunch of anti-Semites.  That’s the most anti-Semitic organization I’ve ever seen.  And what’s up with the socialism?  Is it just a love of poverty or are you into the whole world suffering and being miserable?  I know what, how about if you guys just be miserable for the rest of us and kiss off!” 

I immediately took a picture as these six or seven American apologists probably had never dreamed that people like Yakov still roamed the planet.  They didn’t really argue with him, and after awhile shuffled off to find the lone Dean supporter.

Race was an issue that only those protesting could have ignored.  The marchers were at least 95 percent Caucasian.  I saw only a handful of blacks (what those present would dub “the other”) the entire day.   This statistic would not be anything that the diversity mongers would want known.  The lack of minority participation is always a great irony when studying those leftists who claim to champion the downtrodden. 

Overall the protest was a muddle.  It was more anti-Bush than anti-war.  Yet we should not be surprised as convoluted themes, irrationality and confusion are the eternal trademarks of the radical left.  Vacuity is to be expected as Robert Warshow explained in 1953:

Whether he cheers the Yankees or the Dodgers, whether he damns Franklin Roosevelt as a warmonger or adores him as the champion of human rights, the Communist is always celebrating the same thing: the great empty Idea which has taken on the outlines of his personality.  Communists are still ‘idealists’–perhaps all the more so because their ‘idealism’ is by now almost entirely without content–and the surprising degree of sympathy and even respect that they can command among liberals is partly to be explained by the liberal belief that ‘idealism’ in itself is a virtue. [The Immediate Experience, 2001, p.47]

Names like Robespierre and Pol Pot remind us that being idealistic should never be confused with acting virtuously.  The good news from the weekend is that regardless of their Guillotinic impulses, the protesters harmed no one and not even an Enigma machine could have derived meaning from the cacophony that was their voices.

Bernard Chapin is a writer living in Chicago.

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