September 7, 2004


WELL, THAT WAS FUN: Huge, ineffectual protests make me proud to be a white middle-class coward. (Matt Taibbi, NY Press)

[T]he one thing that would have really shaken Middle America last week wasn't "creativity." It was something else: uniforms. Three hundred thousand people banging bongos and dressed like extras in an Oliver Stone movie scares no one in America. But 300,000 people in slacks and white button-down shirts, marching mute and angry in the direction of Your Town, would have instantly necessitated a new cabinet-level domestic security agency.

Why? Because 300,000 people who are capable of showing the unity and discipline to dress alike are also capable of doing more than just march. Which is important, because marching, as we have seen in the last few years, has been rendered basically useless. Before the war, Washington and New York saw the largest protests this country has seen since the 60s—and this not only did not stop the war, it didn't even motivate the opposition political party to nominate an antiwar candidate.

There was a time when mass protests were enough to cause Johnson to give up the Oval Office and cause Richard Nixon to spend his nights staring out his window in panic. No more. We have a different media now, different and more sophisticated law-enforcement techniques and, most importantly, a different brand of protestor.

Protests can now be ignored because our media has learned how to dismiss them, because our police know how to contain them, and because our leaders now know that once a protest is peacefully held and concluded, the protestors simply go home and sit on their [butts] until the next protest or the next election. They are not going to go home and bomb draft offices, take over campuses, riot in the streets. Instead, although there are many earnest, involved political activists among them, the majority will simply go back to their lives, surf the net and wait for the ballot. Which to our leaders means that, in most cases, if you allow a protest to happen… Nothing happens.

The people who run this country are not afraid of much when it comes to the population, but there are a few things that do worry them. They are afraid we will stop working, afraid we will stop buying, and afraid we will break things. Interruption of commerce and any rattling of the cage of profit—that is where this system is vulnerable. That means boycotts and strikes at the very least, and these things require vision, discipline and organization.

The 60s were an historical anomaly. It was an era when political power could also be an acid party, a felicitous situation in which fun also happened to be a threat. We still listen to that old fun on the radio, we buy it reconstituted in clothing stores, we watch it in countless movies and documentaries. Society has kept the "fun" alive, or at least a dubious facsimile of it.

But no one anywhere is teaching us about how to be a threat. That is something we have to learn all over again for ourselves, from scratch, with new rules. The 60s are gone. The Republican Convention isn't the only party that's over.

Which is why young Republicans matter and the hooligans who turned up in NYC and for the anti-war and anti-trade protests of recent years don't. The civil ones are the ones changing the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 7, 2004 3:03 PM

Its also why Falun Gong scares the bejabbers out of the ChiComs.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at September 7, 2004 4:14 PM

So he's advocating, what, dressing like his parents that he rebeled against? Taking on his parents' values, only buy what you can pay cash for? Become what he despised and marched against?

--Back in the 60s, dressing crazy and letting your hair down really was a form of defiance. It was a giant, raised middle finger to a ruling class that until that point had insisted on a kind of suffocating, static conformity in all thingsin sexual mores, in professional ambitions, in life goals and expectations, and even in dress and speech.--

Prince Al was right, tho it pains me to admit it, what's down is up and what's up is down.


That article is just too deep for me, an ignorant reptilian nazi jackbooted Bushbot.

Posted by: Sandy P at September 7, 2004 5:16 PM

Back in the 60s, not enough of the populations could see "What's in it for me?" when it came to Vietnam, which failed to have a direct impact on the majority of American lives. Those who believe the American public feels the same way about the war on terror as they did about the war 35 years ago start from a dilusional premise and have no hope of coming up with a rational answer for a successful protest.

Posted by: John at September 7, 2004 6:35 PM

Is this supposed to be new?

Marching in the streets, by well-dressed black people, did not frighten Congress into passing antilynch laws.

American First filled Madison Square Garden with well-dressed appeasers but failed to stop Selective Service.

I didn't see any pictures, but I'd bet the Million Man March was well-dressed, and it didn't have any impact.

I damn near got shot marching to integrate the State Theater in 1963, but it didn't get integrated. (I was wearing my Catholic school uniform, blazer, tie, nice slacks, leather shoes, short hair.)

Maybe people react to issues, not presentation.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 7, 2004 7:04 PM


What struck me was that Taibbi's only notion of threat to the political class was violent action. Not, say, voting. Of course, if one is a member of a small minority attempting to impose its views on the rest of society, then I can understand that.

I also note that he seems to presume that if everyone stopped working and buying, it would break "the machine" but wouldn't otherwise inconvenience any of the citizens. Yes, those groceries shelves are stocked by magic little elves...

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at September 7, 2004 9:16 PM

The notion that the protesters were youth is hilarious. They were mostly aging hipsters, with many in their 50s and 60s. In about a decade, they won't be yelling about Bush being a Nazi, but about more early-bird dinners and Dentucreme.

Posted by: Bart at September 8, 2004 8:19 AM