Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sick of it All

It's no surprise that many citizens of all stripes were annoyed, if not offended, by the protesters disrupting the Sept. 10 testimony of Gen. David Petraeus. If you're a real wacko like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, you'll go so far as to condemn a Moveon.org newspaper ad calling Petraeus "Gen. Betray Us," as though this single act could bring down U.S. forces in Iraq.

OK, when protest gets personal, people get called names, and Petraeus arguably is more straightforward than someone like Gen. William Westmoreland. But I'd like to defend protests that get annoying and disruptive by explaining why some people find nihilist and iconoclastic actions useful:

We all have heard the old saw about how the boundaries of dissent have been narrowed considerably following the acts of six years ago today. Admittedly, in the post-9/11 environment, it's not smart to bring firearms to school, or to stand on the street corner calling for the death of public leaders. But recognizing the dangers of terror does not constitute total disarmament of freedom of speech.

Regardless of what Ros-Lehtinen may think (assuming she knows how to think), most real opponents of the war are not Democrats, they are independents who are sick of both parties - and a lot more besides. If they're like me, they are people who are sick of most elements of our three branches of government, and sick of an entertainment-driven society full of people who do not want to be reminded about the war, the economy, or much of anything else that would affect their enjoyment of bread and circuses. For these active citizens, limiting the finger-pointing to George Bush and Dick Cheney is striking at the easy targets. And simply writing a representative or standing on a street corner with a small peace sign just doesn't cut it.

The more nihilist form of protester (and make no mistake about it, I am standing in partial defense of nihilism) wants to raise the social costs of ignorance for everyone in society. Such a protester points his/her finger everywhere and nowhere, saying, "The problem is you." And the problem definitely does involve an American citizenry with no interest in practicing or defending basic rights.

This kind of protest goes back to the old idea of "bearing witness," since it sure as hell isn't going to win any popularity contest. And there's the rub. Vast majorities oppose the war, but damn few are going to do anything about it. The ominiscient social protester is like the many civil-disobedience specialists in the Bay Area who love to blockade Market Street or major freeways. This kind of action pisses off the average person going to work. Yet that in many ways is the point of the protest. Raise the social costs for the White House, raise the social costs for Congress, and raise the social costs for the public at large.

Because the society as we know it is so sheep-like and corrupt, the type of protest to influence public opinion may have hit its limits. We are left with the protest of disruption. And as long as it stays nonviolent, I support such forms of protest. Maybe it is counter-productive from a PR point of view, but I think the world needs more brave speakers out there, raising a prominent middle finger to their fellow citizens at large, and reiterating the phrase that is a common factor of the Iraq War, global warming, and many other large-scale global crises: "The problem is you."

1 comment:

Ruth said...

(Standing and clapping.) I agree, and yet I'm weak and frustrated a lot of the time, wondering how to make any difference at all. As one who walked down Michigan Ave. on one of the most frigid days in February 2003 in protest of the impending Iraq invasion, I know what it cost ME. And sure it shut the street down for a while on a quiet Saturday morning. I support your point of view: peaceful and disruptive. We have a few good 'uns here on campus who keep things riled. I need to stay involved. It's hard when it feels like it doesn't make a difference.

Yes, I'm definitely sick of it. One good thing about 9/11 is that a lot of people woke up and started paying more attention.