In 2003, millions and millions around the world marched in protest against the coming invasion. When Bush was asked about it, he chortled and said, “I don’t listen to focus groups” [except oil companies, bankers, and the like]. I think that was the moment when I forever gave up on protests, though the Bradley Manning people who wore their “truth” T-shirts outside and then inside the courtroom found a special eloquence that moved me tremendously, though they had zero effect on the judge and prosecutor who added a half-century in duplicative charges.
My friend Betsy, among the wisest, most compassionate, and hopeful people still believes in the possible effect of petitions to the president, and if I signed one today it would be for a presidential pardon for Chelsea Manning. But this Obama has shown himself to be Bush dressed elegantly in a black suit and given the ability to give beautiful speeches while growing the police state to unimagined (by me) dimensions. He “doesn’t listen to focus groups.”
In times like these, I sorely miss vibrant guerrilla theatre (fr Wiki: “performances in public places committed to “revolutionary sociopolitical change”) and think it’s high time to bring it back stronger than ever. And the internet and flash-mobs and so on are primed to spread that word. The Bread and Puppet Theater, founded in NY in the early sixties and the San Francisco Mime Troupe, founded around the same time, are still going strong and STILL waiting for the country to fill in between them. I saw B&P in NC around 1966 and SFMT a couple of years later, and they both had a profound effect on me. The whole seriously silly and deadly serious method of expressing hope and outrage had a profound effect on me and resonated with what I perceived to be my own little mission on the planet.
And I miss Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin more than usual these days. They attacked ugliness with humor and courage and simply would not be denied. They attacked not the strategies or tactics of the beast; they struck at its black heart.
From Wiki: In 1967 the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC of McCarthy, Hollywood 10 and so on) “subpoenaed Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies in 1967, and again in the aftermath of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The Yippies used the media attention to make a mockery of the proceedings. Rubin came to one session dressed as a United States Revolutionary War soldier and passed out copies of the United States Declaration of Independence to people in attendance. Rubin then ‘blew giant gum bubbles while his co-witnesses taunted the committee with Nazi salutes.’ Hoffman attended a session dressed as Santa Claus. On another occasion, police stopped Hoffman at the building entrance and arrested him for wearing the United States flag . Hoffman quipped to the press, ‘I regret that I have but one shirt to give for my country,’ paraphrasing the last words of revolutionary patriot Nathan Hale; Rubin, who was wearing a matching Viet Cong flag, shouted that the police were communists for not arresting him also.”
Congress and the states were quick to react to Hoffman’s shirt. From Wiki: “The first federal Flag Protection Act was passed by Congress in 1968 in response to protest burnings of the flag at demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Over time, 48 of the 50 U.S. states also enacted similar flag protection laws. All of these statutes were overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States by a 5-4 vote in the case Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989) as unconstitutional restrictions of public expression. Congress responded to the Johnson decision by passing a Flag Protection Act, only to see the Supreme Court reaffirm Johnson by the same 5-4 majority in United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990), declaring that flag burning was constitutionally-protected free speech.
In the late-‘60’s and ‘70s, I often wore an American flag patch on my arm and for dress-up my American flag tie. For as little as that I was derided by strangers and even spat upon.
Also in 1967 also, Rubin and Hoffman and some others went to the NY Stock Exchange having alerted the press ahead of time and, from the visitors’ gallery two floors above the traders began showering the traders with one-dollar bills. They were quickly removed and “three months later, the NYSE installed bulletproof glass panels, 1-3/16 inches thick, around the visitors’ gallery, as well as a metal grillwork ceiling. An exchange spokesman told the New York Times at the time that it was for ‘reasons of security.’” [Wiki]
Together with Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm and others, Rubin and Hoffman founded the Youth International Party (Yippie) and nominated a pig called Pigasus for president. Fifty years later, most everyone would dismiss that as a ridiculous stunt, but that pig had as much chance of being elected as any third-party candidate does today.
Every person interested in politics today, and making a difference, should be thoroughly versed in the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam Antiwar Movement, and what happened in Chicago late in the summer of 1968. And it wouldn’t hurt to read Hoffman’s book called Steal This Book, whether you buy it or steal it.
Guerrilla theatre. Flash-mobs. Peace Parades. Be there or be square.