The crowd was angry, and getting uglier, hurling epithets at the politicians, their supporters, the inside-the-beltway bozos who were enabling the destruction of America. It heaped abuse on everyone and anyone, cursing those who were helping turn our country toward totalitarianism, or turning a blind eye (the mainstream media!). These scoundrels had stolen something from the people, and they deserved scorn. America needed to hear the outrage.
A Tea Party protest on health care? Hardly. It was a group of anti-George W. Bush demonstrators at the 2000 inauguration. I was part of that crowd, one of tens of thousands of citizens who went to Washington, DC to vent our spleens at the usurpers Bush and his henchman Dick Cheney.
We stood for hours in the sleet kept warm only by our rage. As the inaugural parade came by, the crowd booed everything that moved. When a couple of Bush supporters stepped out onto a high balcony above the parade route, the crowd looked up and thousands began chanting, "jump, jump." A flatbed truck came by with TV network correspondent Maria Shriver, reporting live from the parade. The truck stopped, lurched, pulled forward, and Shriver just about fell off the back. The crowd roared its approval. And a group of little girls from Texas twirling their batons had more abuse heaped on them than the visiting team at Yankee Stadium. If Mother Theresa had been in that parade, she would have heard language that would have made, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler, a nun kick a door.
Demonstrations are often unruly things, patchworks, not necessarily unified ideological events but fluid, mobile, every-cause-for-itself affairs. You don't expect coherence from protesters. Movements can be like Velcro, picking up everything in their path. We know this in Seattle. During WTO, we had Turtles, Teamsters, and Pat Buchanan, plus folks worried about global takeover by the Freemasons and the Illuminati. It doesn't surprise me that racist and anti-gay epithets were hurled at members of Congress: angry crowds can get ugly, and the stuff yelled by one person doesn't reflect the views of everyone in the crowd. I cringed at the Bush inauguration when our protest crowd booed those little girls, but I couldn't distance myself from that behavior. If you want distance, stay out of a crowd.
Of course, a few jerks can spoil it for everyone. At WTO, a Woodstock atmosphere was largely ruined by a small number of window-breaking anarchists. The Tea Partiers have got a black eye from the nasty things some of their supporters said to gay and black lawmakers. Ugly, reprehensible, predictable, American as sour apple pie.
I got my first lessons in internal protest politics in the late 1960s, as a teenager marching against the war in Vietnam. On some marches, I'd find myself next to people chanting "Free Huey, Stop the War!", yet I was no Black Panther sympathizer. I watched my fellow peace activists drown out Hubert Humphrey speaking at the Seattle Center Coliseum (now KeyArena) during the 1968 presidential campaign. I'll bet some of them called him "baby killer." It was a shameful performance, and it was part of the insanity that helped Richard Nixon win an election.
Once, in a "peace" march to Volunteer Park, I volunteered as a march monitor. We wore white arm bands and our job was to keep our fellow protesters in line. When we reached the Safeway on Broadway, the crowd surged toward the store as if to storm it. We monitors quickly lined up between the marchers and the supermarket to prevent violence, but for a few minutes, wrathful peace demonstrators just about pushed us through Safeway's big glass windows. As I stood watching my fellow peace lovers' faces contorted with hate, I thought how ironic it would be if I died at a peace march instead of in Vietnam. I was almost a victim of violence perpetrated by folks mad about where their grapes came from. It was my last protest of the era.
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