The art of protest is dead

Well, apparently not in Wisconsin, and very apparently not in the Middle East, but here in Sacramento, California, and throughout much if not most of the rest of the nation, I surmise, it is.

Last night I attended the solidarity-with-the-workers-of-Wisconsin gathering at the California state Capitol here in Sacramento. It was a great turnout, especially given that the gathering was in support of the working people several states away and was not about anything that immediately is occurring here in California.

The Sacramento Bee put the turnout at 2,500, but, while I’m no expert at estimating crowd size, I would estimate that there were at least 4,000 people at the peak of the turnout.

The turnout was impressive, but the organization of the protest (which barely can be called a “protest,” since it was so tame) was sad.

The organizers had had at least a few days to organize, but the sound system was for shit. It sounded like they were using technology along the lines of Mr. Microphone. Unless you were within maybe a dozen yards of the individual speaking at the moment, you couldn’t hear anything but muffled sounds.

Old labor-movement songs (from the 1930s, I believe they were) were sung. So old that few there knew the lyrics. Hell, why not use some old protest ditties in Latin? The labor movement sorely needs to update itself. The history of the labor movement is important, but when you are singing decades-old songs, it makes you appear to those who are unfamiliar with labor-movement history (which is the majority of Americans) to be, um, irrelevant…

Once the organizers of last night’s “protest” got the crowd that they wanted to get, they apparently didn’t know what to do with it. There was no coordinated march, the chants and the singing were weak (in no small part because of the practically non-existent sound system), and, although the event was billed as a “candlelight vigil” for the embattled workers of Wisconsin, what appeared to be portable stadium lights brightly lit up the protest area the whole time and never were dimmed, making an actual candlelight vigil impossible.

And a candlelight vigil implies that you’re going to be there for at least two or three hours, but by around 6:45 p.m., only 45 minutes after the event began, it was over and the crowd started to disperse. Shit. The protesters in Wisconsin have been at it for more than a week now; we couldn’t do a full hour last night?

Predictably, a small group of “Tea Party” traitors — most of them old and white and just mean (one of them had a sign advising us unionized workers to “man up,” when what the traitors really want us to do is to bend over) — were across the street from us last night. I estimate that there were no more than 20 of them there at a time. (The Bee put their number at 35. My guess is that the mainstream/corporately owned and controlled media don’t mind underestimating the size of crowds of those of us who are left of center, but that they are much more generous when estimating the number of wingnuts, since they don’t want the wingnuts harassing them that they were undercounted.*)

I hate “Tea Party” traitors. To give you an idea of what utter incorrigible asswipes these people (and I use the word “people” very loosely) are, the Sacramento Bee has reported that a local “Tea Party” ringleader named Mark Williams had planned to have “Tea Party” traitors wear labor-union shirts (specifically, the purple shirts of the state’s largest and most powerful labor union, Service Employees International Union [to which I belong]) and to act in ways to shed a falsely negative light on us pro-labor-union protesters.

The Bee reports that Williams had blogged (in part) about his plan to infiltrate last night’s protest:

Our goal is to make the gathering look as greedy and goonish as we know that it is, ding their credibility with the media and exploit the lazy reporters who just want dramatic shots and outrageous quotes for headlines. Even if it becomes known that we are plants the quotes and pictures will linger as defacto truth.

See, just as the members of the right wing have no problem with such things as stolen presidential elections and bogus wars, truth doesn’t matter to them — just the appearance of truth, or, as Williams put it, the “defacto [sic] truth.” (Faux wingnut Stephen Colbert calls this “truthiness.”)

If we labor-union members truly inherently are so “greedy” and “goonish,” then why would “Tea Party” traitors need to don labor-union garb and act like greedy goons? Wouldn’t our greedinees and our goonishness be self-evident? Why would our supposed greediness and goonishness need a boost?

Anyway, word of Williams’ dirty plot leaked out, and SEIU warned its members of it via Facebook (and maybe Twitter, too), which apparently explains why I saw not a single purple T-shirt there (which at the time I found strange, since at that time I wasn’t aware of Williams’ plot; it was only after I got home from the gathering last night that I read about it).

As I have established, I loathe the “Tea Party” traitors, and as the “protest” was dispersing last night, from across the street I yelled at the “Tea Party” traitors who were there to counter-protest something like this: “Tea Party traitors! The ‘founding father’ you follow is Benedict Arnold! You fight against the working class and you support the rich!”

Immediately a thuggish white male member of the California Highway Patrol (California’s state police, who have jurisdiction over the Capitol grounds) and an apparent “security” team member (also a thuggish young white male) for one of the unions that had “organized” the “protest” who looked and acted like a fucking bouncer both tried to shut me up, trying to use their imposing presences, the threat of violence, to intimidate me into silence.

Sadly and pathetically, I had to remind both of them (who apparently spend much more time in the gym than reviewing the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution) that I simply was exercising my First Amendment rights, to which they had no coherent response.

I was across the street from the “Tea Party” traitors and I had made no movement toward them. I had not threatened them with violence. I had not tried to pelt them with rocks or anything like that. I simply had shouted at them what I thought of them. From across the street.

(That violence might ensue from spoken words at what is supposed to be a “protest,” for fuck’s sake, does not mean that it’s legal to infringe upon a citizen’s First Amendment rights.)

But so cowed have we Americans become that apparently even at a “protest” you aren’t to — gasp! offend anyone! You are to stand obediently like cattle in your designated “protest zone” (which our police state actually has instituted in many of our cities) and be nice. Definitely no shouting at the opposition! (Especially if you aren’t a wingnut, to whom much more latitude is given, since wingnuts are professional “victims.”)

So: Only as long as “protests” are rather ineffective and inoffensive, they are allowed.

What’s the fucking point of “protests,” then?

And why do cops and soldiers and other authoritarian types think that they’re such hot shit when testosterone-fueled tools for the powers that be is all that they actually are? They’re exploited just like the rest of us are, yet they apparently believe that they’re superior. They need to ask themselves — and we need to ask ourselves — for whom they really, ultimately are “keeping the peace.”

From my experience last night and from other “protests” at the California state Capitol and elsewhere in Sacramento, I surmise that the (vast) majority of Americans today have no real idea of how to protest. Having been divided and conquered and trained from diaperhood to look out only for our own interests (capitalism, after all, encourages the screwing over of others for the enrichment of oneself [survival of the fittest, you know!]), most of us are at a fairly total loss as to how to come together to effect change.

Even at a public “protest,” we think that we must be “polite.”

And if we dare to be “impolite,” a member of the police state, official or self-appointed, like the sellout sheep-herding dog that he or she is, quickly will intimidate us to get back in line with the other sheeple.

Thing is, when you don’t allow the people a viable, meaningful means of expression, it seems to me that you are asking for it. You are asking for the pressure to build and build and build — until the volcano blows.

At which point the sheeple will scratch their heads and ponder aloud about “senseless,” “incomprehensible,” “unpredictable” acts of violence that, given the police state that we inhabit, which inhibits anything even remotely threatening to the status quo, actually were pretty fucking comprehensible and fucking predictable.

*Similarly, the Bee gave the news story of the event only seven paragraphs, two of which it devoted to the vastly outnumbered “Tea Party” traitors (you know, to be “fair and balanced”). Had it been a “Tea Party”-sponsored protest of even a third of the same size, instead of a labor-union protest of the size that last night’s was, I’m confident that the Bee’s coverage would have been more thorough.

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