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Slightly Fewer than 600,000 Ugly Ducklings

chicago dyke's picture
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I'm visiting family this weekend, so I'm missing it, but in honor of those taking to the streets of DC today, I'd like to repost this entry from a while back that got attention at Kos and elsewhere when first posted.

Say what you want about the ineffectiveness of it all, or the "horror" of people being exposed to Communists and anarchists, but I think that it's a good thing for people to take to the streets. I get tired of people mocking those who get off their asses, since when is that a bad thing? As I've said before, sometimes it's nice just to perceive yourself as part of something larger, even if that something includes folks who don't look and act exactly like you do:

I was watching the coverage on C-Span of today’s anti-war protest, and following the comments over at the Crack Den, mostly because that’s where I knew a lot of us too poor/busy/far away from the event to go folks would be. A lot of people were complaining about the coverage, but more were complaining about the event itself. Too many issues, too many speakers, not enough “focus.”

I consider myself a bit of a veteran when it comes to protesting, I try to hit at least one or two a year, usually more. I’ve been to DC, and SF, and a bunch of other places for smaller events of a regional nature, and in crowds from 100 to 350,000 or more. Protests are funny things, in that they tend to attract a wide range of people, depending on the subject(s) of the protest and the timing of the event. What I haven’t been to a great deal: rallies that have a lot of “focus.”

The Left has never failed to live up to its reputation when it comes to lack of a clear message and strength-though-unity. Personally, I don’t think this is a bad thing. Diversity is our strength, just as homogeneity is the strength of the right. I like marching with people who care as much about human rights in the Sudan as I do about gay rights in America, and I love throwing down with the Trotskyites, Third Wave Feminists and Po-Mo Wobblies. Add a little pot to the mix, and that’s what I call a good time.

I understand that not everybody is as interested in my hippy vision of happiness and universal love, including some people who share the one thing that unites us all: the desire to unseat the Bush regime and restore liberal/democratic leadership to the executive and legislative branches of government. “Bush Haters” we all are, and that includes dowdy hausfraus in the suburbs, frat boys at the Ivies, and working class folks just looking for an honest break. Radical people like me are a clear minority in the Left, and as a democracy, it’s important that the one time we show unity is at the polling place. Hence, a lot of people’s complaints that the radical nature of the speakers at the rally today “hurt our cause.”

People also complain that the organizers, like a lot of us pointy headed overeducated leftists, sought too much to “educate” and not enough to “protest.” I think it’s worth noting: there is a difference between a rally and a march. C-Span, according to my sources, can only broadcast that to which an overseeing “bi-partisan” committee agrees. I assume this means DC party operatives, and I’m sure that it means C-Span will never, ever show the 300,000-600,000 strong march in the streets today. In order to marginalize citizen action in general, I’m sure both parties agree to only show “the crazies.” Tomorrow there will be a counter-protest and perhaps march. I doubt those Protest Warrior types will fare much better in the eyes of Susie Soccer Mom and Joe Sixpack. (And I’d be surprised if there are more than 10,000, but I’m sure C-Span will provide visual representation that suggests ‘balance.’)

I’m not even going to bother with what the SCLM will show, if anything, about this weekend’s events. But I will make a point about the power of images, as I’ve touched on in an earlier post about TV. Think of it as the Ugly Ducking idea.

I was an ugly duckling as a child and young teen, late bloomers run in the family and I grew up as the only student of color in my high school in the years when racism was still ‘cool.’ So I wasn’t exactly showered with compliments about my nappy hair or full lips. When I went to college, and had learned a thing or two about the practice of Black beauty, I was lucky enough to be in an environment with people who appreciated the diversity of beauty. I’m told I’m beautiful now, and I even did a stint with a couple of modeling concerns a few years back. Lucky for me, I also took a couple of feminism classes, so I saw through that shit quickly enough not to develop a model’s mindset or absorb the racist, misogynist ideology of American visual “beauty” culture. My experiences as a teen and young woman taught me one thing I’m very grateful for today: to learn to see beauty in all people. I’m the kind of person who looks at a plain-faced woman and says, “what a lovely shade her hair is” or finds beauty in the grace an overweight person displays with his hands. I saw a lot of beauty at today’s protest.

But I know I’m out of the mainstream in my reluctance to judge people by impossible, artificial standards that dominate American visual media. Many people, perhaps even most people, would look upon today’s group of “freaks” and recoil or laugh. Dreadlocks! Muslim garb! Sallow skin! Oh my God, does that faggot have gay hair or what? Did I actually see a fat person on stage? It wouldn’t matter if these people had been protesting in favor of the right to breathe; a lot of viewers would still be put off by their looks, no matter what the message. And that’s what I think is really behind the dread reactions of many of today’s moderates.

Further, I understand that it’s a long string of words to connect why freeing Mumia is related to the war in Iraq. I appreciate the comments that by doing so, the anti-war movement puts off a large group of otherwise anti-war moderates, ones who will vote, spend money, and even speak out in order to end the war. But I will fight, to my dying breath, the idea that education is a bad thing in the fight against American pseudofascism. And I honestly think that while “unity” of message has value, I’m not going to absolve people of the responsibility of understanding the relatively simple idea that Muslims care about the plight of the Palestinians, and see the war in Iraq as much the same thing: a magnification of the war on Muslims around the world, funded by US tax dollars, carried out by overwhelmingly superior US-led forces, and aided by the government of Israel. That’s not so hard to understand, is it?

So combining the reluctance of “most Americans” to be associated with “fringe” causes like Palestinian rights, and a fear of nappy headed fat people shouting and wearing funny clothes, I guess today’s march and rally were “failures.” I guess the DLC is right, and we’ve got to move our message farther to the center, and disassociate ourselves from people like me, who happen to care that two queers can live together in peace, and that Islamic states are granted the right to self-determination. I guess we should hire the firm that dressed the Roberts family and their hairdresser too; perhaps we can all be blondes and wear Jackie: The Glory Years outfits.

Take a look in the mirror, gentle reader. Are your eyes blue, slightly slanted upwards, and widely spaced? Is your skin a flawless shade of ivory, your waist a firm and trim 22”? Does your hair fall down your shoulders in natural, full curls and shine with gold and amber? No? Well, welcome to the majority of the human race- but don’t look for work on TV.

Take a gander, fellow progressive, through your own memories. Is there some personal experience, some selfless friend or motivating teacher, which inspires you to care about one issue above all others? That’s great, what makes you think anyone else should care about it? Who the hell do you think you are, someone important?

Listen to your own voice, does it project with power and clarity, causing others to fall silent and listen in rapt attention and awe? No? Well, that’s too bad, because I guess you should never be on a televised rally for peace and justice. I guess you shouldn’t presume to speak for your cause, and that you should just let the “professionals” speak for you. No one wants to hear you crack and stutter, you boring clod.

This former duckling says: fuck that. I believe about a half million other Swans for Justice joined me today, I’m sorry if their concerto of voices and brilliantly rainbow colored feathers offend you.

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