Friday, March 17, 2006

Takin' It To The Street

When I read that the Southern Republican Leadership Conference was to be held in Memphis at the Peabody Hotel with 2500 hardcore Southern True Believers in tow, I decided to protest the event. If I can sit at the computer in my lounging clothes and encourage others to take action, it was the least I could do to drive downtown and join the hundreds of other protesters certain to be there from all over. I have my priorities of course, and first had to watch the Memphis Tigers win their conference championship. I figured I would catch the Republicans for the afternoon session. But my sign was ready. I had made it the day before with posterboard, tomato stakes, magic marker, and staples. It said "Sheep," on one side and "Fools," on the other. I felt anyone who can still defend this administration is either a sheep or a fool. I added the address of this blog, just in case.

It wasn't the first sign I've made. I wasn't always a protester. In college, I was a raging moderate who believed that whatever the question, the answer was "love." Then I witnessed a peaceful demonstration by students at the University of Tennessee turn confrontational and then violent as a squad of Knoxville, helmeted, riot police charged the crowd in a club swinging melee that sent students scattering down the famous Hill, dripping blood into the new Student Center from their fresh head wounds. I realized that protest was a matter of conviction. Then when Richard Nixon announced he was coming to Knoxville to speak at a Billy Graham Crusade after the secret bombing of Cambodia, it fell upon me as a resident Knoxvillian to physically demonstrate against this political misuse of a religious gathering. That's when I made my first sign. It said "Crusade for Christ," but I had drawn an X through Christ and written "Nixon" below it. We picketed the main drag in front of the campus for the benefit of the afternoon Knoxville rush hour, and just to show that we were there. I didn't ask for it. It came to me. Same thing with the Republicans last Sunday. I was obligated to show my face in the place.

I got into a minor confrontation the minute I arrived. I grabbed my sign and headed for the sidewalk on Union Ave. in front of The Peabody when two policemen told me I could not protest on that side of the street. I asked if this wasn't a public sidewalk and was told, in fact, "no," that The Peabody owned the sidewalk all around the block. I was skeptical but crossed the street. Then as a measure of civil disobedience, I walked to Third Street and down the sidewalk on the Peabody side but the back way where the service entrances are. No one stopped me but the hostility was palpable for a single picket. I decided I would feel better when I found the rest of the protesters. I returned to the Union Ave. entrance of the Peabody, (across the street), and found three others. A young gay man with a back-pack holding a sign that said "Impeach Bush Now;" a young man of college age holding a sign that said "Stop Republican Fascism;" and a former hippie housewife from Lakeland who's sign read "Evildoers." I asked the woman where everyone else was and was informed that this was it. There were four of us.

You could spot the Republicans in a second. Everyone was in their Sunday, go-to-meetin' clothes, and wearing a laminated badge around their necks held together with a red ribbon which they wore like the scarlet letter. No sooner had I staked out my spot when a heavyset, red-ribbon wearing man in his forties walked behind us and paused to say, "Well, aren't you all proud of yourselves?" There was something in his sneering condescension that set me off. I replied vociferously, "I'm very proud of myself for standing out here in opposition to people like you." He said, "It's people like me that guarantee your right to stand out here." I lost it a little,"People like you? I thought the Constitution gave me that right..." and then I called him a synonym for a donkey's sphincter. I was sorry as soon as I said it, but the guy froze and looked at me very hard. I thought, "My God, I haven't been here five minutes and I'm about to be in a fistfight." Thinking that the best defense was a good offense, I immediately said in my best Chuck Norris, "You better just keep on walking, mister." The fat Republican looked at the ground and shook his head, paused for a second and walked on. I was relieved not to have to throw or duck punches. I apologized to my fellow demonstrators and told them it had been a long time, but now I remembered that if you plan to demonstrate where you are not in the majority, you can prepare to take a little abuse.

I had no idea how much abuse could be packed into a few hours, most of it drive-by name calling, some of it confrontational. The ugliest remarks were from the Republican women. Although, Kathryn Harris had cancelled her appearance at the shindig, most of the women I saw looked like Kathryn Harris impersonators, only longer in the tooth. They had that 60s Mary Tyler Moore hair-do shellacked in place, deep lipstick scars on their faces and lots of cosmetic surgery. What looked like startled shock on one woman's face was actually a brow lift gone terribly wrong. She said to the protesting housewife, "Is Osama Bin Laden your best friend?" (BTW, just writing that name gets me on a list somewhere), to which the protester replied "What the hell does that mean?" There was a tense stand-off until the GOP women remembered their dinner reservations.

I tried to time my protest to be there when the Republicans ended their afternoon session. They were all there. Frist, Hastert, George Allen, Mitt Romney, Trent "Highty Tighty" Lott, and the rest of the contenders. When a girl came up to me and asked what I thought of Mitt Romney, I replied that I liked his Daddy because he was a Democrat. When the three o'clock hour arrived, no grand poohbahs came out of The Peabody, but we caught the delegates' eye. The four of us posed for photographs for the next half-hour. We were indeed a collective curio. One guy even had me put my arm around him and hold the sign on the "Fools" side so his wife could take the picture. And dozens of cell phone memories were imprinted with our images. I reminded my fellows that someone among these happy few was from the FBI. They looked alarmed but being the oldest, I chuckled and said with false bravado, "they can just dust off my old picture from the 60s." Then several carloads drove by shouting "Faggots," and the antiquated "Commies." I laughed at that one thinking the closest Commie to Memphis was an old man in Cuba. A smaller number of drivers honked in support or gave the thumbs-up sign, but although there were numerous black Republican delegates in attendance, every African-American that drove by, without exception, honked or waved in approval. I forgot to mention that I was also wearing my "George W. Bush is a Punk-Ass Chump" tee shirt.

Chris Matthews from "Hardball," walked outside and looked up at our signs. I waved to him and he smiled back and removed his sportcoat. For a moment, I fantasized about arguing my position with Matthews on MSNBC, being the oldest of four demonstrators, but Matthews asked a policeman which way to Beale Street, then turned his back and walked in the opposite direction. The crowd thinned. The Republicans were eating and resting up for the evening session and we were discussing calling it a day when a homeless black man wearing a choir robe with a velvet collar and a broad-brimmed Jack Abramoff hat approached. He thanked us for being there and said even though he was homeless, he kept up with the news and knew that the Republicans under Bush were not looking out for the poor. I asked him if he had heard what Rev. Joseph Lowry had said at the Corretta Scott King funeral, and to my astonishment he told me he was at the funeral and proceeded to quote from the various speakers at length. He said that an elected city official looks after him sometimes and gave him the money for the bus ride to Atlanta and it was one of the greatest events in his life. Just when I was beginning to feel good about that, from the corner of my eye I saw a rough looking man in a dirty shirt and an unkempt moustache rushing towards me. I braced myself and turned to confront this wild man when he handed me a fountain coke with ice and a straw and said, "thank you for doing this." I was glad that I did and would do it again if some others would join me.

That's why I want you to know about the March for Peace, Justice and Democracy sponsored by the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. People will gather at the First Congregational Church at 1000 S.Cooper at 1PM, this Sunday, March 19th and walk somewhere. It marks the third anniversary of "Shock and Awe." I felt better after having exercised my right to freely assemble and protest my government's policies, and you can probably be home in time to watch the Tigers in the NCAA Tourney. Before our merry band of four protesters at The Peabody finally parted company we shook hands all around and agreed to meet at the Peace March. I said to them in closing, "We didn't do much, but at least we did something."


Anonymous said...

Thanks Randy for sticking up for all of us that couldn't attend. I think it's sad that most of us sit around and bitch and moan about this crap, but don't get off our asses and protest.

See you on Sunday.


Anonymous said...

I'll bet I can find the black homeless man a job...if he wants one. He would feel better about himself and would be able to afford to participate in more protests. In fact, as his self image and his financial situation improve, he might lose his urge to protest.

Anonymous said...

I'm proud of you "pally"!

Power to the People!, Right ON !

May the Fascists rot in hell with my steel toed boot up their asses.

" V for Vendetta"

Anonymous said...

When someone approached H.D. Thoreau and asked him why he didn't do more for the poor, he replied that whenever he offered to show a poor person how to live as well as he did...they weren't interested in his offer.

Anonymous said...

I just don't get it why they are marching from Cooper St., unless they are planning on heading downtown, and calling the press in advance. It's like them having a protest meeting about the Republicians being in town at bar/restaurant in Memphis. What good does that do? It needs to be very visible, and for sure if you call Jackson Baker from The flyer, he LOVES to show up at political stuff. He writes more in-depth stuff than the local paper (which isn't saying much) about politicas, and says more than the 109 nano-seconds each TV news commentators give to their subjects, in between commercials, so you get about 5 minutes of real news, and 10 minutes of "fluff" news, or "human interest" about local stuff. Diana

Cousin Arthur said...

So, Randy, glad to see you are constructively engaged.

We in Washington were ecstatic about the Repubs convening in Memphis. It gave us our town back. What a nice place this is when everyone on the street has the same political positions that you have.

But they have returned with a vengeance.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is good to start in friendly territory, rally the troops, before heading to confront.

Build up to a big "Concert for Peace."

Anonymous said...

As to the comment about Thoreau, he was notoriously stingy, so I wouldn't take too muchy stock in what he said abouot poor people taking his advice or not. In fact, his "cabin" on Walden Pond had to be loaned to him by his richer friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. And he didn't stay there that long. Which has nothing to do with politics, but I think it's interesting, anyway...

Anonymous said...

Au contraire...Thoreau built his cabin with his own hands. The axe he used was loaned to him and it was returned to its owner sharper than it was when he borrowed it. He never intended to make it a permanent residence. The whole project was an experiment in self-sufficient see if one by his own efforts and ingenuity could be self-sustained...among other issues. He was not stingy, but was an extreme individualist. He had tremendous faith in the capacities of the human spirit. He believed that society would be best served if everyone would would discern and express his own God-given individuality. He would have been offended if anyone had emulated him...he would advocate that each one express his own uniqueness. He wasn't stingy, he beieved that the individual, with a little effort did not need massive subsidies. This sounds like heresy to our hyper-conformist entitlement driven culture. We subsidize a large part of our social problems through a remarkable capacity to behave unwisely...and that comes largely from the highest levels of our government. This gets back to why I said that Randy's criticism are too narrow. He needs to lambast most of the political-governmental spectrum. The root problem lies deeper than Democrat/Republican or liberal/conservative. I am not a Republican or a conservative...I am more of a Thoreauian libertarian with some anarchistic tendencies. In other words, that gov. is best which governs the least. We are, or should be able to govern ourselves, because (with the exception of the organically defective) we are created for success (with proper tutelage)and if we can fend off all of the enabling influences our society bombards us with that tend to weaken us and make us to be cattle on the gov. farm.

Anonymous said...

Actually, if you read the article "Thoreau's Declaration of Independence from Emerson in Walden" by Prof. John Ronan, Vol. 33, Number 1: Spring 2006, I believe in "American Literature",(easy to look up) the article makes clear that although Thoreau did build the 10' x 15' x 5' cabin with his own hands,it was with tools supplied by Emerson, so it was Emerson's own axe he returned sharpened, and it was NOT on free land. I quote; " As usual, Emerson assisted his protege in important ways. The land on which Thoreau lived free of charge at Walden's was Emerson's, as were many of the tools he used to build and maintain his home there. Emerson, furthermore, helped Thoreau stay afloat financially by supplying him with paying jobs around his house . . . . .In April of 1841, Thoreau left his parent's home on Concord's Main Street to live across town with Emerson and his family as a gardener, a general handyman . . . He [Emerson] continuued to aid Thoeau professionally . . . but his reservations about the younger man were now increasing,(as a promising young writer, his protege] . . . "he wrote of Thoreau in his journal: "T. appears sometimes only as a gen d'arme[,} good to knock down a cockney with, but without that power to cheer & establish, which makes the value of a friend . . . A month before Emerson left for Endland in October 1847, Thoreau ended his "experiment" at Walden Pond and moved into Bush (EEK--BUSH!) (Emerson's farm home, where Thoreau had lived before for extended periods, years, sometimes working, but often neglecting his chores, Emerson wrote--i.,e. not earning his "keep" as we might say of the homeless--Thoreau WAS basically homeless, unless he wanted to move back to his parents'.
In fact, Emerson later helped Thoreau get a job as a tutor in another town, with Emerson's brother's family, when he tired of Thoreau and his notoriously bad manners, with his abrupt rudeness to others when he came to Emerson's home,rarely speaking to guests, or, if so, not being kind or gracious, etc.
Finally, Emerson, when he wanted his privacy (as he had many visitors at his farm as his fame increased with his writing) and he wanted to scare off a visitor, he would often just invite the notoriously ill-tempered Thoreau to come over to the house from his quarters on the land and "entertain" the visitors, who would often then leave.
There was a growing rift between the men. So, Ronans' paper offers,"Obviously, a lot was at stake for Thoreau in "Walden" . . . He hoped to erase the public's perception of him as a derivative thinker [from Emerson], (and he even before had imitated the way Emerson acted, for a time, with people accusing him of even trying to grow a big nose, like Emerson was known for having one . . .!) "while acquitting his debt to Emerson for his patronage." Later, the paper goes on to say that Emerson later bought the cabin back from Thoreau on Walden, when Thoreau left, which was on Emerson's land, to give Thoreau even more additional income.He was hoping the younger Thoreau would become a great writer, and so he subsidized him, as he did others, a generous man.
Thoreau quit the tutoring job quite rapidly because he couldn't get along with the man of the house, and then Thoreau also worked for a time as a bean farmer.But ultimately he returned to the Emerson's property again. He also said hospitality is only real when it is given to people who don't need it, because people in need are in need of charity, which puts them under an obligation to the giver. So he invited people to Walden, another man's land, who wanted to talk, etc., but who didn't need charity. And he didn't offer any of them jobs, because he didn't have one himself.
If you're looking for a good transcendentalist, it's better to look at Emerson (who DID put on some airs later, however,in all fairness, after he went to England and was treated like royalty,and started hiring servants on his return to his farm, etc., as he and his wife had money to begin with anyway, but were more modest to begin with),or for better writers of that era, look to Hawthorne or Twain, or the real genius, Melville. That's just my opinion, of course. But the thing about Thoreau not feeling it right to "give" to people in need because it put them in a position of indebtedness (while he himself was in dept to Emerson for years) is pretty disingenious, given his circumstances, not being too eager to work and being lax at the small jobs he did have himself,and taking help himself and not even being appreciative of it, and so he lived in quaisi-poverty for a long time.
Emerson bailed him out many times, and this is documented not only by Dr. Ronan's critical article, but others. So you just can't believe everything Thoreau wrote in "Walden," or elsewhere, just as you can't believe other things people wrote. Including this. Look it up.
Thoreau had a hidden agenda with "Walden," besides the obvious true thinigs he was saying, to try to mentally "free" himself from his indebtedness (which was a real one) to Emerson, and to try to distance hiimself from the fact that he goy his ideas from Emerson about Transcendentnalism, and he also felt threatened by the events of the Industrial Revbolution as well,such as large-scale farming. So he retreated to Walden--but he didn't do it on his own. Although, Thoreau wrote in "Economy: that "nothing was given me of which I have not rendered some account," he does not mention all of the above., that "the land he claims to have squatted on was Emerson's and that Emerson gave him permission to live there. He does not note that Emerson regularly found work for him or that he often dined at [the Emerson farm] during his stay at Walden." And at the end of the book, when Thoreau says "he left the woods because he had "several more lives to lead" (W 323) he does not indicate that he went right back to live at the Emersons.
So, part of the purpose of this book was to "extract a little revenge and establish himself as a superior host," from Emerson, as their relationship, from being the best of friends, had cooled considerably over the years. But then he want BACK there to live, later... He also "declares himself free of his debt to Emerson in "Walden" . . . by appropriating and transforming his theory of "Correspondence," (the cornerstone of Emerson's early Transcendentalism. Thus, in "Walden," Thoreau borrows both the doctrine and structure of "Nature." He WAS "an extraordinarily giften naturalist" (which Emerson was not, although he professed he was) . . . including "his precise and affecting natural imagery." So you have to give him credit for that in his writing, and for other things. But as to offering a poor man a job, he wouldn't even invite a poor man to Walden, much less often take a proper job himself,instead usually living off of Emerson.
Thoreau also wrote that "visitors who came out to the woods for freedom's sake, and really left the village [and its commerce] behind, I was ready to greet with--"Welcome Englishman! welcome englishmen," (W154)(to someone else's land) But if anyone called on him in need in assistance . . . "one may interact with others without burdening with debt if one is willing to maintain one's standard at the cost of being unkind--by refusing to receive visitors who need help, for instance."
So, Thoreau is being a bit self-serving in some of his statements, as many other writers are, in all fairness, but he was, in fact, for a long time,pretty much of a leech on Emerson, ultimately to Emerson's displeasure at Thoreau being so rude about it, never even offering one word of thanks, as Thoreau maintained that gifts came from God and not from the person giving them, but he didn't pass along the favor from God to anyone himself, really, only those whodidn't need "help." "Thoreau's apparent use of Transcendentalism in [this passage] . . .[as] a means of repudiating all debts to those who had been "kind" to him read like an attempt to quell his anxiety over his debt to the Emersons, who, at this point in his life, were his principal benefactors." (Ronan) As Emerson wrote in "Manners": "He is a good man who can receive a gift well." thoreau did not follow this precept and obviously didn't agree with it, but he accepted the gifts. At Thoreau's eulogy, Emerson said of him, "An iconoclast in literature, he seldom thanked colleagues for their service to him, holding them in small esteem, whilst yet his debt to them was important." (C 10.451) "And in at least one manuscript of the oration, one finds that the word "never" was initially in the place of "seldom." (Ronan) Also, Hawthorne, a neighbor of the Emerson's, wrote of Thoreau staying with the Emerson's, "It may be that such a sturdy and uncompromising person is fitter to meet occasionally in the open air, than to have as a permanent guest at table and fireside." So, if as the previous commentator wrote of thoreau,"he believed that the individual, with a little effort, did not need massive subsidies," Thoreau should have practiced what he preached. He WAS stingy, and gave a bit, but took more. He didn't help anyone, but accepted it himself. and, yeah, he didn't believe in massive subsidies--he distrusted big government and about everything else, quite a negative character in fact, known for it--liked nature better than people-- and talked about how frugally he lived at Walden, but neglected to mention the dinners at Bush that he regularly left Walden to attend, and the other luxuries he enjoyed there AND at Walden, people bringing him delicacies to eat, etc. Just read a few good biographies about these guys. Or Rona's paper (quicker).

Anonymous said...

I didn't know the behind the scenes poop on Thoreau. Human nature does betray even the best of men. I admire him because he articulated a life style of simplicity and self reliance which I don't see much of in this culture, or any other culture for that matter. His personal failure to implement his principles are like the flawed attempts of many of us to live out our convictions. I didn't mean to make him out to be more than he was. I only know him from Walden. I always considered his point of view to be a valuable counterpoint to our inconcievably materialistic and complex culture. And he seemed to champion the human spirit and it's capabilities. Oh, Randy, sorry to use your blog for getting so far afield.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, I am no Thoreau expert. All I know of him is from reading Walden. In spite of his personal failings, I admire his ethic of simplicity and self-reliance. I think that these are a valuable counterpoint to our extremely materialistic and often enabling culture. Oh, Randy, sorry for getting so far afield. I have great respect for your convictions, but give the Dems some hell too. I think that American politics has all of the dignity of a middle-school food fight. Most of them are a bunch of compromising, double-dealing, two-faced #1%?!!! regardless of part affiliation.

Randy said...

I love it. Please continue.

Wildflower said...

Randy, since your blog is entitled 'Born-Again Hippies' it could be construed to include a re-birthing of a broad spectrum of issues (in addition to politics) relating to alternative culture here in the Memphis area. The possibilities for interesting dialogue would be endless. Something more needs to be done to turn back the rising tide of conformity and breath-taking meaninglessness that the current monoculture is producing. You do realize that culturally speaking we are back in the '50's (well, I guess there is hip-hop).

Anonymous said...

I would have responded sooner, but I was in Dallas at the tournament rooting on the Tigers. Randy you need to read your comments very carefully and with an open eye on how vicious you sound. You call yourself a born again hippie and you go off about the republican women's appearance. Your attitude is just as bad as theirs. If our society continues to become more and more polarized there will be nothing that can help us and you are falling into that trap. Dialogue is one of the ways we can move forward, but the attitudes on the conservative side and the liberal side makes that impossible. Neither side is completely right or wrong. Grow up and approach the problems with reason and be willing to listen and try to look at it from the other prospective. Your attitude is no different from my country right or wrong or love it or leave it. Instead it is the Democratic party or it is wrong. I believe dictatorship is born with such a premise. Just to clarify, these same comment go out to most Republicans as they are just as closed minded.