03 July 2012

Please, sir, I want to protest!

Does anyone know what a protest is anymore? I have to wonder after reading this story about the sorry spectacle of purported "protest" groups, including the local Occupiers, participating in a lottery for the privilege of holding a demonstration in a "free speech zone" during a designated bloc of time while the Democrats hold their national convention in Charlotte, NC. Organizers have made available 78 discrete time slots for different protest groups, and the lottery apparently determines not whether anyone can speak but when, since there are more time slots available than groups claiming them. An Occupier interviewed for the story contemptuously compared the lottery to a church raffle, then contemptibly waited to learn when his turn would come. The report reveals that it remains legal to protest outside the "free speech zone," so long as you're not within the convention's "security perimeter." The real choice, it seems, is between taking a chance and taking a chance -- between playing a game of chance and risking punishment for really (rather than "formally") protesting. But what's to protest, anyway? Will any of these people dare tell the Democrats that they won't vote for President Obama, with the spectre of Romney and Republican rule looming near? What we'll more likely see in the "free speech zone," and probably outside as well, is something like the tantrum a child throws (presumably without literal throwing in Charlotte) when Dad and Mom won't let him have his way. A few such children may run away from home, but for most the rage subsides into sullen submission and social-network griping. A modus vivendi develops much of the time. The child may be allowed to put up posters of his favorite rappers or metal bands in his room, and the disaffected progressive may be permitted to vent in his room, or zone. People need to let off steam, after all, and I'm sure that was the charitable thought in mind when the "free speech zone" was invented. Democrats obviously want to avoid any revival of the spirit of 1968, when real protests were answered by what one convention delegate called "Gestapo tactics." A Gestapo, however, takes its antagonists seriously, while a drawing for "free speech zone" privileges clearly doesn't. Protesters today probably don't want to be taken as seriously as their parents or grandparents were in the streets of Chicago. But when they submit to the unbarred cage of a "free speech zone" and call it a protest, why should anyone take them seriously?

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