If you thought we would be at least temporarily free from protest marches, now that President Bush has cleansed Iraq of Saddam Hussein, you underestimated the determination of these peculiar people.
On April 12, thousands of protesters marched through the streets around the White House, "demanding," as the New York Times put it, "an early end to the military's presence in Iraq. ... Although the march focused on the war, many in the crowd also voiced their frustrations with other policies. Groups critical of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other global financial institutions plan to rally Sunday to protest economic globalization, and some of them joined the peace march today."
Advertisement - story continues below
The modern phenomenon of the protest demonstration dates from the Vietnam War, and its popularity is grounded in the firmly held belief that the Vietnam protests actually accomplished something – either ended the war, forced Nixon's resignation, or both. Most protesters are fairly well educated – to the college or junior college level – and absorbed from their professors a positively exhilarating hatred of how (they think) America is run. The liberal media, and especially television, reinforce this belief on a daily basis. As a result, there is practically always something going on that spurs them to action, whether it's war in Iraq or just a meeting of the International Monetary Fund.
But what accounts for the popularity of the protest march as a technique? After all, these people could just as easily involve themselves in more normal forms of political activism: working for the political party of their choice or even writing letters to their local newspaper.
The truth is that most protesters feel, guiltily, that they haven't accomplished much with their lives. Above all else, they long to do something that will make a difference. If such a person is a really determined loner, he or she may choose to spend a year living in the upper branches of a California redwood to protest the lumber industry. But a protest march is quicker, easier and a lot more fun.
They will spend the day in a large crowd of similarly minded people. With any luck, they may actually get on television, or even get (briefly) arrested. The leaders of the mob will brief them in advance on where to slump down in the middle of the street, to block traffic. There will be instructions on how to respond, or not respond, to orders from the police. It will all be, or at least seem to be – deliciously – a little bit dangerous. And all in such a good, high-minded cause!
Advertisement - story continues below
I will confess, though, that one thing puzzles me. Where do these people find the time to engage in these hijinks? Don't they have jobs, like most of the human race? Or are they all on welfare, or getting an allowance from Daddy? A protest march requires devoting at least a day to the project, and thousands of these people find the time to be bused in from distant cities, spending a week or more away from home. Of course, a few will be superannuated geezers long since retired, trying to recapture the glory days of the Vietnam protests, and a good many are no doubt students (more or less), on no particular schedule. Throw in the unemployed and the self-employed, and it is conceivable that a critical mass might be achieved. But surely some of the protesters must have jobs, just like the poor devils trying to get to work in the traffic jams they cause.
The Times reporter may have been trying to tell us something. "'The effects of this war are going to be around for a long time,' said Tessie Fletcher, 19. Dripping wet, she was at the edge of a fountain at Freedom Plaza, two blocks from the White House, where she and others in the group had frolicked on a pleasant spring afternoon. 'The devastation from the bombing won't go away,' Ms. Fletcher said."
No, and neither will Tessie.