for the Twisted and Remedial: Protestors in Chicago
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
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
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:
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]
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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