Pubdate: Thu, 17 Aug 2000
Source: New Times (CA)
Author: Jill Stewart


Is anyone in protest movements -- save environmentalists -- spreading 
anything but bullshit?

It must have really bugged the involved citizens at the Democratic National 
Convention this week when Jay Leno conducted a "test" of passersby in Los 
Angeles, querying one college-educated woman who identified George W. 
Bush's GOP as "the Elephant Party," and then a teacher who couldn't name 
the Democratic presidential candidate.

These were intelligent people, but as they stammered before the cameras it 
was clear they followed politics as closely as I follow monster trucking. 
These two women represent the growing masses who are not involved in any 
politics beyond that which takes place at their child's school or in their 
company's staff meetings.

When millions of educated and intelligent citizens decide to "drop out" of 
politics -- as millions have during the huge decline in voter participation 
of the past decade -- it creates a tremendous opportunity for fools to rush 
in. And act out, like they did outside the Democratic National Convention 
at the Staples Center.

The week started out appropriately. First, the People for the Ethical 
Treatment of Animals miraculously got on national television by dumping a 
truckload of manure in front of a hotel. It was actually pretty fun, but 
the group immediately ruined its infamous moment by inanely screaming "meat 
murderers!" at the cameras. Net result: For every person who decided to 
join PETA this week, a far greater number probably decided to run as far 
away from these nuts as possible.

That mangled stunt was followed by the first big street protest, staged by 
a group made up of white twentysomethings, older longhairs, and black 
college-aged dreadlockians. They were demanding a new trial for convicted 
murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has transformed himself into an articulate 
author fighting to save his own life. The Mumia movement was inspired by a 
hit rock song about him, and, like the convention week itself, is a muddled 
and many-flanked affair waged largely by people who are blissfully unaware.

When I spoke to a handful of the Mumia protestors, none had a clue that 
Jamal's case against his prosecutors is not only extremely flimsy, but his 
murder conviction is not nearly as questionable as those of a half-dozen 
other black men on Death Row. Unlike Mumia, some of them may actually be 
acquitted with DNA testing. But the articulate Mumia gets all the attention 
from this growing movement nationwide.

(A typical Mumia-fan response to my skepticism, which I got from a 
dreadlocked man named Bob Jones, was: "Yeah, but they wrote a song about 

Everywhere I went this week, I saw throngs of people with a strong aversion 
to facts and a real disregard for taking the time to think. Five different 
conventions were under way, yet not surprisingly the public was only barely 

Although the dedicated activists who ran the show in the streets this week 
were well-meaning, their idiot quotient was high -- which reflects the mass 
departure of brainpower from grassroots and national political arenas. 
Accomplished people are busy succeeding in business and careers in our gold 
rush economy, and political movements have clearly suffered from the loss. 
Of all the movements I sampled, only the environmental ones were making sense.

Besides the Democratic National Convention, there were the Shadow, 
Homeless, People's, Mothers, and Anarchists conventions.

Railing about the ridiculous was particularly acute among the anarchists, 
who held their convention in a modest studio in the long-neglected eastern 
backside of Echo Park. Anarchist Convention czars were pursuing political 
reasoning that was absurdly nuanced: They allowed a Los Angeles Times 
reporter to attend their workshops, while pointedly barring a writer from 
the Washington Post.

For those who paid the $25 fee to hear the anarchists -- who were, 
amusingly, following a tightly organized schedule beset with all sorts of 
rules -- their convention offered a long weekend of speakers sounding the 
one note that government is bad.

Yet whenever I asked an anarchist what would be better for organizing 
society than the current construct of democracy, I got that pitying 
arched-brow response that is so popular among people who can't think more 
than one move ahead in chess.

One anarchist, calling himself only Gary, told me: "If you don't understand 
what we are saying, somebody really got to you."

It's not that the anarchists are mentally challenged, but that they see 
darkness and death where most see opportunity and life -- which explains 
why fewer than 200 people showed up at their weekend conference, at least 
20 of them from European and U.S. media.

Speaker John Zerzan, one of the few anarchist presenters who would reveal 
his full name, rambled on about how colonialism is alive and well in the 
world: "The nations who practice it are in control of millions of people 
who are enslaved to fulfill their corporate needs."

The problem is that comfy theorists such as Zerzan don't offer society an 
alternative that's a smidgen better. Yes, people work for pennies in 
Malaysia to make American shoes, but those increasingly secure and employed 
Malaysians would not choose to give up their jobs and return to the chaos 
of poverty.

An anarchist named EAE gave a talk in which he kissed off all the pacifist 
protest groups as suffering from a mass "pathology" laid on them by the 
greater societal powers. A guy calling himself Wolfi spoke with feeling on 
behalf of "insurrectional anarchism" -- but never was able to explain why 
he thinks insurrection is necessary.

The only real pragmatism I witnessed was in the content of two seminars 
entitled "Chemical Weapons," and "First Aid," in which a paranoid bunch 
known as the Black Cross Collective laid out the dos and don'ts of getting 
gassed and beaten.

In toto, I saw a sadsack group of very concerned people. It was almost 
screamingly clear that the anarchists are transferring their angst and 
fears to unnamed masses who they insist are the ones dissatisfied. A 
speaker named Joel seriously suggested "We need to abolish the white race," 
when probably all he really needs is a good therapist. Yes, he's white. But 
he didn't commit suicide.

Back downtown, I ran into an anarchist named Em, who was searching the 
streets for a vendor selling black T-shirts with the huge, red anarchists A 
logo on them. "I want to relieve you of your job," he said to me. I hardly 
knew how to thank him.

Luna Sol Cafe on 6th Street near MacArthur Park, a health-food restaurant 
within walking distance of the Rampart police station, had become the 
unofficial watering hole of the anarchists, Mumians, and unaffiliated 
others whom I can only describe as kinda counterculture because they are 
mostly college-age hipsters rooting around for something to do. One small 
group described themselves as anarchists, even though they could not 
immediately define the word. They were upset about a host of issues, 
including "corporate greed" and "discrimination" against illegal immigrants 
- -- particularly the pumped-up security at the Mexican border that has 
prompted illegals to cross physically treacherous desert areas to get into 
the United States.

Josh Burrows, who came in from San Diego for the week, said: "Anarchists 
are picking up where the '60s left off, because the leaders in the '60s 
stopped before they completed the job. I've read about [uh, the '60s], and 
you can see a lot of the parallels."

What were the chances that Josh's nascent anti-establishment movement could 
catch the attention of the Democrats, or anybody else, when the 
establishment is so damn happy with itself nowadays? Nada.

Even the Shadow Convention, rich in well-educated and respected speakers 
such as Gore Vidal, seemed to be virtually ignored by the media and the 
Democrats. Perhaps it was the arrogance of power the Democrats have 
acquired over eight years, but it might also have been because the 
Shadowites seemed to mimic the anarchists on some days, featuring a number 
of pigheaded theorists who hadn't a clue.

This was most acute in the person of has-been author Jonathan Kozol, a 
faded darling of the left who is still stubbornly preaching his failed 
philosophy of laid-back education that inspired such disasters as England's 
Summerhill. A school freed of testing or teaching, Summerhill churned out 
children who could not cope with college or demanding jobs.

Yet the highly defensive Kozol has over the years become so intolerant of 
other viewpoints -- even though his theories have backfired in schools -- 
that he won't appear on the same dais with California's education reform 
multimillionaire, Ron Unz.

At the Homeless Convention, which was covered only by a handful of U.S. 
media types but by many more European journalists, lots of important 
messages were interspersed with racial posturing. The angry rhetoric of 
some speakers -- such as the ones who argued for federal reparations for 
black Americans because their ancestors suffered slavery -- was as goofy as 
anything I heard on the streets all week.

It's been fun to take a whack at the well-intentioned goofballs and 
pigheaded scholars who have roamed L.A. during the DNC. But I am pretty 
sure ridicule was not what they had in mind when they came here. Whether 
they resorted to violence or not, they faced a daunting task -- to rile up 
the populace and inspire change at a time when most everybody's bloated and 
happy. I am pretty sure they failed.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart