Retorts: The limitations of demonstrations

TRUMP supporters rally at Bolsa Chica State Beach on Saturday under the watch of law enforcement and spectators (OC Tribune photo).

When I was in college, I ran into a bunch of guys who fancied themselves as Communists with a capital “C.” They carried copies of Mao’s famous “Little Red Book” and had hammer and sickle badges pinned to their jackets. All we could do is laugh.

Aside from identifying simultaneously with two bitter political enemies – China and Russia – the would-be commies presented not a formidable appearance. Their grasp of the history and methods of their adopted ideology were as thin as the T-shirts they wore. To my eye, they were playing at being political.

Marches and rallies and demonstrations often strike me like that. They are more theater and political theology than effective action, in most cases. The particular example I refer to is the “Southern California Make America Great” march that took place Saturday at Bolsa Chica State Beach in Huntington Beach.

I wasn’t there, but a photographer shooting pictures for the Trib was on hand. If you look at most of the photos he and others shot, the crowd actually looked pretty thin. Estimates ranged from 1000 to 2000 people, which doubtless included not just pro-Trump marchers but also counter-demonstrators, news media and the just-plain-curious.

A group of self-styled “anarchists” showed up in their black outfits with the stylized “A” on the front, hoping to attract some attention. About 10 of them lined up in the path of the marchers as if to block them.

Why would an anarchist mind what somebody else is doing? Isn’t that the whole point of anarchy? Everyone does whatever they want? As you might guess, the Trump people pushed right past them. Fists flew. A lady trying to intervene in a fight between an anarchist and a Trump supporter – and you can guess who was getting the better of that “discussion” – was pepper-sprayed and arrests made. Dumb stuff reigned on both sides.

On the surface, it looked like both sides lost. The turnout for the march, on the vast space of the beach, looked rather thin considering Orange County’s reputation for conservative politics. The anti-Trump folks came across like callow college kids playing a street theater improv scene but acting like jerks and getting their fannies kicked.

Video of the event seems to suggest that some folks on both sides were spoiling for a fight, and they got it. Through the inflated eye of the camera, the event was pumped up and TV news across the nation called the whole thing a “riot.” That’s right. “Trump rally ends in riot” is one headline I saw from an East Coast news website.

While I honor the legacy of the Selma march and the “I Have A Dream” rally, I’ve never been much of a fan of demonstrations and such. They don’t lend themselves to dialogue or understanding. It’s one group of “true believers” against another. Nothing is resolved, and people get hurt. There will always be some nimrods in the crowd who’d rather throw a punch than make sense.

Friends, a thousand people marching on the strand won’t make the President more popular. A dozen or so people “trying” to stop the march won’t change his policies. If you’re really interested in changing the world for your side, it requires more heavy lifting.

That means getting out to vote, and getting others out to vote. It means writing letters, sending e-mails, raising and contributing money. It means organizing others and educating yourself, and not just in the narrow confirmation of your prejudices.

Freedom of assembly is one of the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. It’s a keystone of our way of life. But it should be employed wisely. Democracy takes some work, folks. If you can stand one awful pun, it’s got to be a labor of love, not just a day at the beach.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears each Wednesday, if he’s not too busy.




1 reply »

  1. I think rallies like this (as opposed to demonstrations, which are another, related animal) for a sitting president are very unusual. This one felt a little forced and odd. The foreseeable conflict with vocally hostile Anarchists (or whatever they were) had almost been advertised beforehand in the press. I think this may have kept away a lot of locals. One way of looking at it is that the Anarchists wanted to goad the True Believer Militia wing of the Trump crowd into behaving badly for cameras. If that was their goal, they achieved it I suppose. But that may be giving them too much credit. One report described their organizer as surprised that people didn’t join in their effort. I wonder if they had any idea, really, where they were and what they were doing. I read that nobody will end up getting charged with anything, which is interesting given the videos. “No harm no foul, we’ll call it a draw.” It could have been a real mess.

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