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Stop Complaining About Right-Wing Protests! The Left Should Be (Re)Learning How It's Done
Where is the passion and commitment we once had?
Originally published in This Can't Be Happening on Friday, 7 August 2009
The left, in all its various guises—environmentalists, labor unions, civil rights advocates, health care reform advocates, anti-war activists—have become neutered office-chair potatoes, sending canned emails to their elected representatives and the White House.
OMG! Those protesters showing up at Democratic “town meetings” to promote the president’s health care “reform” program are being bused in from out of town?
Scandal! Que horrible! (Gasp)
But wait! That’s exactly what we on the left always did when we held demonstrations—at least if we could. Who in the trade union movement hasn’t called on fellow workers in other unions to join them in rallies during struggles with an employer, or asked them to join sparse picket-lines? Who hasn’t pulled out the stops trying to get people from other cities to attend a local protest?
Okay, if it were shown that the Republicans were hiring fake protesters to go to those Democratic pep rallies to mess them up, as was done during the 2000 Florida vote recount, there’d be a good investigative story, but from the righteous if ignorant anger that is being expressed by the tea-baggers and anti-government types that I’ve seen in news reports, these seem like legitimate right-wing cranks, who are willing to be rallied to the cause of opposing what they see as a socialist plot. Never mind that you’ve got ignorant numbskulls demanding that Democrats in Congress “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” or that you’ve got right-wing protesters in their 70’s who are all on Medicare irrationally shouting “Keep government out of health care!” The point is that confused and ignorant or not, these people are willing to make the effort to travel fair distances to make their voices heard, and they’re willing to stand up, shout, and even scuffle for the chance to make their point.
It’s not as if Democrats haven’t gone to great length to fill those same halls with earnest supporters.
The real question is why is the left in the US so goddamned polite and domesticated that these Right Wing cranks look positively rowdy.
Back in the late 1950s and the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement wasn’t polite and domesticated. It brought activists to events in the Deep South all the way from New York and Boston. Its members rallied in the thousands to shut down segregated public and even private institutions. Its activists occupied buildings on university campuses, boldly confronting police and police dogs and armed men in white robes.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, anti-war protesters in turn shut down recruiting and induction centers, destroyed draft board records, tried to close down Washington, DC, got arrested in the hundreds, incited soldiers to desert and then helped hide them from the law, exposed the 1968 Democratic Convention as a farce, and faced down armed police and soldiers repeatedly, at one point in 1970 closing down the nation’s campuses in a national student strike when soldiers shot and killed four unarmed students at Kent State University.
Years earlier, when workers were being abused, they occupied factories, forcibly shutting them down with sit-down strikes, battled Pinkerton detectives and armed National Guard forces, and set up tent cities in Washington to make themselves heard.
And they won great victories.
Where is that passion today? For the most part, the left, in all its various guises—environmentalists, labor unions, civil rights advocates, health care reform advocates, anti-war activists—have become neutered office-chair potatoes, sending canned emails to their elected representatives or to the White House, occasionally marching politely inside of pre-approved, permitted and police-prescribed routes, and attending sponsored events like the current round of town meetings, perhaps to raise polite objections to aspects of a proposed piece of legislation.
The agenda of the left in today’s America is being written not by uncompromising radicals in the street as in earlier decades of struggle, but by the bought-and-paid Democrats in Washington. The left, such as it is, has become simply a reactive force, trying to make discrete little improvements in the truly horrible legislation—health care “reform,” cap-and-trade, the Employee Not-So-Free Choice Act, continued Iraq and Afghanistan War funding bills--that is being offered by a wholly corrupt Washington in thrall to corporate lobbyists.
We all need to take a lesson from the Right, and from those lusty, cantankerous folks who are raising hell at those pathetic “town meetings.”
How can it be that 10 percent of American workers don’t have a job, and that the government is expecting that number to keep rising for another year or more, or that another 7 percent have either given up even trying to find a job, or have taken part-time work in desperation, and yet we have not had one mass protest in Washington demanding public jobs for the jobless!
How can it be that the country has been mired in two wars now for eight years, and we haven’t had a million people storming the Pentagon to shut it down (or at least levitate it)!
How can it be that we have 49 million Americans who can’t even afford to see a doctor when they’re sick, and we’re talking about a health care “reform” plan that not only won’t fix the problem, but will actually end up costing us all $600 billion over 10 years without solving it! And we just write letters to Congress! Why aren’t we liberating hospitals and opening them up to the uninsured?
How can it be that the ice cap at the North Pole is actually disappearing, and the whole arctic tundra across Canada, Alaska and Siberia is starting to boil with the release of prehistoric methane trapped under now-melting permafrost, threatening the very lives of our grandchildren, and we’re calmly watching as even the Obama administration’s pathetic “cap-and-trade” legislation gets stalled by coal-state Democrats! Why aren’t we on the left lying down on the tracks to block the coal trains, or tearing up those tracks!
Where is the passion and commitment we once had?
It all seems to be on the Right these days.
About the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on August 9, 2009.