Before I dive into the subject I'm writing on tonight, I want to welcome everyone who got here from the link so generously provided from the Long Island Press'
COVER STORY ABOUT OUR OWN PIA SAVAGE
Also I want to wish a Happy Birthday to Sar on this lovely 4/7 and direct you to her appropriately themed gathering
I want to talk about protests for a little bit. I make it no great secret that I am opposed to war as anything other than a last resort. I believe that due to the infamy of the Vietnam War and now the War in Iraq, we are less secure as a nation, because the thought of being shipped off to and perhaps killed in an unecessary war, that is fought in conflict with one's values, is causing people who would otherwise proudly enlist defend their country to have second thoughts. Even if one were to disregard the catastrophic toll in innocent lives, this much is clear: To rush to war; to engage in armed conflict under any circumstances other than when absolutely necessary, is to betray the honor of those who serve our country. The idea that such betrayal is inherently present in protest is a crock of bullshit, served up by those who mandate war, and some who stand to profit by it; a cowardly attempt to shame dissenters into silence.
That having been said, some protest does dishonor our soldiers. We've all heard of Cindy Sheehan. At first she seemed honorable. Or did to me at least. But at some point she became a bigger story than the men and women still fighting and dying in Iraq. And then we heard how she had yet to put a marker on her son's grave. In the end she was a godsend to the warmongers. She turned the debate away from the war proper, and allowed the right to use her as a straw man, and equated all who oppose the war to her disgrace.
But you don't need to make headlines to protest shamefully. One such occurance was related to me by my good friend Steve, who goes to the University of Chicago, where A student theater group known as "Naked Theater" dressed as Nazis in protest of Marine recruiters arriving on campus a few months ago. For the record, the act of protesting recruiters my support. I believe the tactics currently employed by military recruiters to be shameful. However, this particular protest was an utter disgrace. Allow me to deconstruct.
First of all, they were presenting a pretty obvious comparison there, and of people, not tactics. Quite simply, they were comparing the Marines to the Nazis. As a friend to one Marine and nephew of another, I find this to be horribly offensive. And let us not forget just how much of an affront the image of a gathering of Nazis is to anyone of Jewish heritage, and moreover to anyone who had to live through Nazi rule.
And even were one not to concern themselves with being offensive, it is well documented that invoking the Nazi party is a thoroughly ineffective way of making an argument, unless there is a direct correlation, and even then it's usually a bad idea. At best the pure sensationalism distracts from the matter at hand, and at its worst, potential sympathizers are alienated. To wit, Hunter S Thompson wrote in a column that the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal disgusted him more than the atrocities of the Holocaust. Now, I knew when I read the column that he never considered the prisoner abuse to be a more terrible crime against humanity; rather it was the idea that this sort of behavior was prevalent (and perhaps even mandated from above) in American POW camps that was so utterly loathsome. But that didn't stop Drudge from eating him for breakfast.
But that is neither here nor there. My point is that while we have the right to freedom of speech and assembly, we have the responsibility to exercise those rights with a modicum of dignity. And I'm not talking about strict rules, or in fact any concrete rules at all. I have gone on the record in support of nude protest, and I use the word fuck liberally and poetically in my written work.
So as I said, this protest happened about a month ago. And the Marine recruiters are due for another visit to the campus. The same group is now planning another protest. Before I describe it, I'd like to point out that I'm reminded of Malcolm X. Even back in the days when he preached that every white person was at their core evil, he withdrew from making public statements for a good while after he made the famous misstep of declaring the death of John F Kennedy to be justice. Now, he was put under pressure to do so, but that should not suggest that the gesture isn't a classy one. It's an example I try to live up to. When you open your mouth and something stupid or offensive comes out, you give pause before you speak on the matter again. In view of their grossly offensive display the previous time, I should like to have heard that the group would sit this one out.
Instead, they are planning a die-in. Basically, they douse themselves in stage blood and arrange themselves in the manner of a group of slain soldiers. Shock theater of a different sort. Not outright offensive per se, but consider that it's taking place on a college campus, where a pile of corpses would seem ridiculously out of place. In fact, if one didn't know better, they might laugh at it. I'm going to quote what my friend said in response.
Shock theater -- which is what you're proposing -- is and has always been very effective at castrating good ideas. I support protesting the Marines. Really I do. But if you want to be taken seriously, you have to learn the difference between pushing the edge and wanking off over the edge. Please. No Nazis. No stage blood. This world is ugly enough. If you want to take a stand and you want it to be effective, your presence is enough. Simply standing and holding a sign explaining why the Marines are a discriminatory organization (heterosexuals only plzkthx) would be direct. Holding a hug-in wherein you offer hugs to anyone who wants one to protest the overt violence of the Marine credo would be beautiful. Hell, how about a silent protest -- hold a sign telling the people who support peace that their silence speaks volumes, and that if they do not support the Marines that they should be utterly silent in their presence, and perhaps would they like to sign a petition?
If you want to make bad theater, I won't try to stop you. But if you're honestly concerned with getting your voice heard, understand that many people here stand with your position, and that you would gain a serious measure of respect -- at least in my eyes, and I suspect with a significant percentage of the school body -- if you chose instead to proceed with decorum in your stance against the Marines.
I didn't mention this before, but this is someone who I did theater with in high school. I've spoken with some reverence about the experience in this space. We both learned a great deal about getting a message across; how to use images. And there is a major problem with a mock death site. It has to do with what is known as the spectacular society. Essentially, a hostile image is presented in a softer light, and thus becomes less formidable. Softening the horrors of war by presenting them in fabrication is not only at cross-purposes with the goals of anti-war protest, it devalues the hardship and sacrifice of those who have had to endure those horrors. To properly understand the sacrifices that have been made to protect this country, and the senseless waste of life inherent in erroneous war, we must keep with us a sense of how ugly war is. In a time before mass media, such an image would be useful because it would have been the most honest one availible. But in a culture where fake violence is prevalent and often viewed without so much as a batted eyelash, what impact will fake fallen soldiers have? Such a visceral message is best left to media that can properly capture the true ugliness of it all.
Images of the Vietnam war were abundant as it was being fought. It was there for all to see, and it caused outrage. It seems that the one lesson that has been learned from Vietnam is not to provide fodder for it. We're aware of the numbers, but as for the reality behind them? We have no clue. For all we've heard of journalists embedded with the military in Iraq, this war has gone relatively unfilmed. We aren't being presented with the images necessary to know what is truly going on there. But that void is not and cannot be filled with a bunch of protesters playing dead. All that's communicated there is the idea that ones intent was to shock and awe. Hardly an effective way to protest this war.
All in all what one must remember as a protester, should one partake in or organize a protester, you do not merely represent yourself and your cause. You represent everyone who supports your cause. To reflect poorly upon your fellows is to damage your position as a whole. What is important is that ideas get across. In order for that to happen you first need to have some. Then you need to present them in a way that will invite others to join you.
The stakes are too high to alienate those who would support your cause.
The stakes are too high to put an axe in the hands of those who wish to shame us into abdicating our right to speak out.
The stakes are just too goddamned high to fuck this up.