When I was young, civil disobedience was the tool of choice of the left. The anti-war movement, the environmentalists, the riots in Chicago during the DNC, the freedom rides, the Weathermen, the March on Washington, the SDS, sit-in’s, teach in’s, love in’s…
These protests were so prevalent that they became romanticized. Years later otherwise establishment, middle aged people nostalgically donned tie-die shirts and multi-colored love beads as if they really had been at the rally, had actually been there to dare the fire hoses.
The romanticism became institutionalized. When I was in college a once radical, then tenured, professor chided us for not being more active in our dealings with the university administration. “If we didn’t like what they said,” Dr. G told us, “if they didn’t give us what we wanted, we’d get our guitars and some cheep wine and move in, take over the president’s office…you should too. I’ll show you how…” That was the left. This was their stock in trade. Act up, make noise, stop the system from functioning.
So seeing the right wing now use these same tactics (without the bombing and violence that peppered the activism on the left) must be bitter sweet for ex-activist Barack Obama. Democracy givith and democracy taketh away.
This August was an uproar of popular discontent for every Congressman brave enough to have a town hall (”Scared to death” the New York Times described congressmen returning to Washington) and today busses arrived from all over the country to unload a new kind of protester to the Capital Lawn – protesters from the right
It’s funny because the right is not really comfortable with the tactics of Gandhi yet. They stand stiffly, wear pastels and khakis. Their signs have none of the humor of the old 1960’s banners. They look like they are going to overheat in the sun, and no one burns their bras or even takes off their cloths. Someone needs to clue them into the guitar thing.
But the crowds are large and growing, and in an internet era they have an organizational advantage that their leftist predecessor could only dream about.
As odd as the American right looks “on the march” it is clear that the Obama administration is turning into the greatest instigator of conservative activism in, well, forever. No one took to the streets against Jimmy Carter, there were no marches on Washington in support of Reagan. But this administration has become the catalyst for discontent against federal monarchism; against the vast self perpetuating bureaucracies whose expansions are at the center of the current national debates.
Is this John Birch revisited? Maybe, but the themes of this new movement are remarkably attractive and if managed well could have broad national appeal, especially after the economic hysteria that brought this administration to power subside.
Perhaps the most articulate presentation of the anti-government movement is being made by Senator Jim DeMint a soft spoken, I’m-a-Republican-but-I’m mad-at-them-to, gadfly from South Carolina. He lays out the message in a simple two part statement. It’s about …
Almost everything else is secondary.
Sure there are groups that will argue that capitalism is a sham, so fiscal responsibility is unimportant (Michael Moore) and others, like Dr. G, who would say that collective responsibility trumps the individual (To each according to his needs, from each according to his ability) but these two ideas of responsibility tend to strike a deep cord with Americans, especially recent immigrant groups who came here just for, or just because of them.
So I guess the scary vector of this situation could be the left using the totalitarian power of the (gargantuan) federal government to quell the uprising of the disruptive right because they know just how powerful these tactics will be, which would be a really bad thing. The real test of the character of President Obama will be how he deals with the swelling unrest.