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 Hayden, Newsday
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
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.
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.
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.
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.