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Home  » Analysis   »  Dissent Must Come Alive in New York

Dissent Must Come Alive in New York

Protesters need not Fear that they will be Playing into the Hands of Bush's Campaign Strategy

by Tom HaydenNewsday
August 20th, 2004
Protest, even more than property, is a sacred resource of American society. It begins with radical minorities at the margins, eventually marching into the mainstream, where their views become the majority sentiment. Prophetic minorities instigated the American Revolution, ended slavery, achieved the vote for women, made trade unions possible, and saved our rivers from becoming sewers.

Protest by its nature challenges authority. It cannot be managed or commodified without losing its essence.

The first American revolutionaries were "rude and insolent rabble" to John Adams, who nevertheless became president in their wake. Abigail Adams warned her husband in 1776 to remember that "if particular care and attention are not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion." The former slave Frederick Douglass advised the timid liberals of his time that "those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground."

Shall we trade this rich heritage for the convenience of those who want to preserve their Republican authority, like the grass in Central Park, from being impacted by our marching feet? For those who would manage protesters like so many wild beasts in cages? For those who infect our culture with the false claim that in a time of terror we must fear dissent?

Dissent must come alive in New York City. Dissent against an unelected government that misled us into an unnecessary war that has cost nearly 1,000 American lives and $200 billion that could have been invested in health care. Dissent against the hysteria that leads New York's Proudest to throw a hammerlock on Mike Wallace and have the impunity to claim that this 86-year-old man "lunged" at them.

The Bronx Cheer should not be stilled.

Certainly New York's Republican mayor and the police are doing what they can to provoke, anger and divide the groups planning to show that it's still a free country. The current permits crisis, now in the courts, will be sorted out, but lack of resolution will depress the numbers expected to participate in a vast march on Aug. 29. At the same time, the mayor's stonewalling stokes the militants of the movement while confusing or reducing their broader base of support.

Adding to the preconvention tension is the floating rumor that Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's campaign strategist, is laying a trap for the protesters, counting on the very fact of disorder to bolster the president's image as a strongman. In this view, protesters are supposed to behave themselves lest they throw the election to Bush.

I say Karl Rove is overrated. Despite untold campaign funds, he couldn't win a majority for Bush in 2000. His script for Iraq called for an easy "mission accomplished." His tax cuts were supposed to generate a jobs boom. Social issues like gay-lesbian marriage were to fuel a permanent Republican majority in Congress. Nominating Bush in September, uptown from Ground Zero, was to be as triumphal as entering the new Baghdad. Clearly, Rove's script is in tatters.

Defending the GOP convention as if it is the Green Zone in Baghdad may not instill national confidence in the commander in chief. A confrontation in New York could be a sign that four more years of this president's policies will destabilize our country as needlessly as his Iraq adventure and trillion-dollar tax cuts for the wealthy. Many voters could conclude that Bush, if he wins in 2004, will plunge the country into strife not seen since the '60s.

Presidents have been dumped before due to such failures. According to the Pentagon Papers' secret history of the Vietnam war, a primary concern of America's establishment was the domestic polarization that was tearing us apart. Called the Wise Men, a select group of senior advisers persuaded President Lyndon Johnson to resign. Then, when the Watergate scandal began to further cripple presidential authority, President Richard Nixon was forced out.

Positioning the president as the protector of civilization against the barbarians of the Lower East Side will be a tough sell, since Americans believe that serious threats to our security are not homegrown but originate abroad.

While some dissenters may think of New York as the apocalypse itself, many will be thinking of a strategic opportunity beyond the skirmish in New York: to turn the November election into a referendum on Iraq and democratically expel George W. Bush from power. That would truly be a shot heard 'round the world, restoring the legitimate respect for the American people which the current administration has squandered. It would be a mandate for John Kerry as well, to take us quickly in a different direction or face the opposition of an energized movement.

On the other hand, if the president wins in November, by means either fair or foul, we will need the commitment and courage of a new generation of activists all the more.