Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Republican National Convention: The Protests

(This post references an article by Rick Perlstein that appeared in the Village Voice on August 24th, "Get Mad. Act Out. Re-elect George Bush")

Okay, back to the controversial stuff (and to bait my friend, Lon). Here's what I'm currently thinking about protestors at the Republican National Convention. I guess I don't have the optimism to believe that undecided voters will see newsbroadcast images of protestors and police clashing and determine that voting George Bush out of office will bring peace back to the streets. I think most people are afraid of the kind of emotions and risk-taking that such demonstrators show and they don't align themselves with it.

I can tell from my own reaction to street protests that even though I slept on the steps of UC Berkeley's administration building to protest apartheid in 1985, I feel quite removed from most of the protesters I've seen demonstrating in Chicago. I don't feel like they represent me and I wouldn't trust them to speak for me, Regina Rodriguez, whose opinions about the presidential race and state of our country are very complicated. I'm not totally sure where I stand on everything and that means that I'm more hesitant than ever to align myself with any group with an agenda. And the more nebulous and shifting the agenda and membership of a group is, especially a "group" as free-form and constantly changing as any given protest rally, the less I trust that their interests are the same as mine.

These are all just my opinions and I'll willingly take the label of "yuppie" who's more conservative than I want to admit. But when I see the anger of protestors who clearly feel there's nothing to lose by hurling the full weight of their bodies and emotions at some physical representation of the status quo, when I see that kind of thing I can easily relate to the emotion (I have lots of emotion myself!) but I cannot respect the method. And that loses the message.

What is that message? I, as an observer, don't know because the message is now lost in the spectacle of high emotion (protestors' emotions AND the police's). Remember: Americans are not big on emotional displays, especially when you mix them with politics. We, as a masculine-centered culture, tend to be afraid of strong emotions and we especially want to keep them separate from things like debates, public statements, political philosophies, etc. If you're trying to make a reasoned appeal or persuasive statement, emotional displays are not an effective tool.

So improvisational, emotion-driven political action just doesn't feel effective to me. Maybe Perlstein is right: maybe it is a matter of having a planned and carefully coordinated action that doesn't ever lose its clear meaning and intent for us, the viewers. If such political action really is for us, the viewers, then emotion-motivated improvisation doesn't help. It only muddies the message and then, I think, very little communication with us, the viewers, is accomplished.

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