by RIP RENSE
I Protest. . .
(Aug. 24, 2004)
George W. was due at Santa Monica Airport
imminently, and the protesters gathered a half-mile away, on two sides of an Ocean Park
intersection---pro on the west (left), con on the east---near the one-time site of the
almost entirely forgotten Douglas Aircraft Company.
To get to "my" side of the protest, I
had to walk through a pack of roiling Bush supporters. A thousand-armed monster of white
eyeballs, bared teeth, and American flags signs sticking up like pocupine quills.
I carried no Kerry sign, no sign
calling for Bush's castration, no button reading "BUCK FUSH." My 1968 hair
garnered a few suspicious glances, though, so I figured it was a matter of time before I
was found out. Strange feeling, trying to pass for an American in my own country.
I wondered about the pixies who had
conspired to put me back on this corner, forty years after I had first visited it, when my
old man took me to work with him one day in 1963 at the Douglas PR department. I wondered
about the effectiveness of protests, and the physics of mob mentality, and the disgust in
the eyes of Santa Monica cops, and I wondered about the anti-Bush protester carrying the
baffling sign, "No More Socialism."
As I wondered, and wandered, someone asked me to help
hold up a huge banner reading "Troops Out of Iraq," so I stood there stupidly,
holding the back of a big sheet for about ten minutes. Of course, I wanted the troops out
of Iraq, although it sure doesn't seem like we can just cut and run and let the whole
place devolve into civil war. Better that we drag it out for many years and many more
deaths, like Vietnam, and then cut and run and let the whole place devolve into civil war.
Well, no, er. . .
I was thinking about such
ridiculous stuff, there in the friendly late afternoon sun and cool, caressing ocean
breeze, and sky as easy-blue as faded jeans. Not that it did much good to think about such
things, really, or, even to hold the big sign up. But it beat doing nothing, and I figure
it's important that the media report protests wherever George W. happens to get up in
front of a microphone and pretend to speak English.
I turned my peace symbol into the raised middle digit, which was kind of
like throwing tennis balls at Dobermans in an open pit.
Hordes of cars stopped at the light in front of
the protesters, or honked in support as they passed, and the people waved signs and made
that monkey "woooo" sound that is so popular. Some cars grew arms that held
"Bush Cheney" placards through SUV sun-roofs, prompting friendly booing,
unfriendly booing, and an occasional ritual exchange of profanities. The looks on the
well-coiffured Bushfolk was like the looks on the faces of those Midwest tourists on the
buses that went to Haight-Ashbury in 1968 to "see the hippies." As if they were
witness to an entirely different, lesser species. Once in a while, an anti-Bush person
bolted into traffic to try to persuade a pro-Bush person to reconsider.
This, of course, is like trying to pee
Although I must say that one such
ambitious woman engaged three testosterone-deranged young men in a conversation for a good
three traffic-stalled minutes! I mean, a real discussion. The young men stopped scowling
and waving her off, and were actually listening, even responding. Nice of them! I doubted
that I would have had the same luck at engaging their attention, as I don't have breasts
and a lyrical female voice, but still, it was nice of them.
"Can cops vote?" asked a young fellow
with three-foot dreadlocks standing next to me.
"Sure," I said, not adding, "how
could you possibly be so ignorant?"
He held a big Kerry sign, and
courteously suggested to passing cars containing Democraps or Repugnicans to "please
remember to vote." He told me his name was Dave and he was from Minnesota, and had
come to L.A. to "go to graduate school and learn to surf." Dave turned out to be
a hell of an affable guy. More affable than the passing parade deserved.
I couldn't exactly say the same for Gertrude,
or whatever her name was. Her curly, frenzied hair seemed to grown straight out of her
curly, frenzied synapses. When she saw Bush-Cheney signs, she lunged into traffic,
shrieking things like "BUT THEY LIED!" Well, of course they did, but I didn't
see how this contention was going to turn any pro-Bush heads.
"I can't help it!" she told me, in a
pronounced South American accent. "How can these people not understand the lies! Why
don't they care?"
I told her I had no idea, and I
really didn't. Stupidity has something to do with it, but also gullibility, naivete,
hard-heartedness, paranoia, misguided notions of patriotism, and Fox News. But even those
things didn't explain it sufficiently. Maybe it's genetic. No administration in history
has lied as constantly and flagrantly and spectacularly as this one, yet many either don't
object, or don't see it. Of course, many people don't think there's anything wrong with
Dr. Phil, either.
It was, overall, your standard West Side
anti-Bush protest. The usual mish-mosh of nice Santa Monica liberal folk, goofball
self-proclaimed "socialists," a few Nader supporters (gasp!), the hilarious
theatrical troupe, "Billionaires for Bush" (chanting "Blood for
Oil!"), a smattering of polite gay lads upset about not being able to have the church
and government sanctify anal intercourse, glamorpuss TeeVee Newsmannequins, and the big
etcetera, of which I am a charter member.
I dutifully held aloft a Kerry
sign someone gave me, and made with the peace symbol at passing traffic for a couple of
hours, alongside Dave and Gertrude and the gay lads and the barmy "socialists"
and the nice liberals and glamorpuss Newsmannequins. I smiled for a guy from Homeland
Security or the FBI who took my picture from the island in the street, but I guess he
didn't like the pose, so he took several more. Once in a while, when particularly
aggressive Bush cars passed by, I turned my peace symbol into the raised middle digit,
which was kind of like throwing tennis balls at Dobermans in an open pit. Wow, did they
One thing struck me as tragic. The pro-Bush
crowd waved more flags than the Daughters of the American Revolution on July 4th, while
the anti-Bush folks boasted exactly one Old Glory. It was huge, but it was very lonely.
How sad, I thought, as this will fuel stereotype notions about how the left "hates
the country" and lacks patriotism. How sad, I thought, as this renders the banner
symbolic of rage and authoritarianism.
Suddenly, Gertrude left the line
and chased after three strapping young pedestrians holding a sign reading "Bush Freed
53 Million People, Many of Them Muslim!" She was all over them them a mu-mu on
"You call Iraq and Afghanistan FREE?"
she roared. There was some further unintelligible exchange, giving way to "WHAT HAVE
DEMOCRATS DONE FOR HISPANICS?" from one of the young fellows, spouting a classically
insane generalization of the ilk typical in campaigns.
Gertrude, whose English wasn't
so hot, grew a bit flustered and returned to the line, where she mentioned that one of the
guys was a Marine. I promptly caught up to him and shook his hand.
"We undoubtedly disagree," I said,
"but I wanted to thank you for serving the country, and to wish you the best of
The Marine stared, a bit perplexed, waiting
for the punchline, then offered that he was soon shipping out to Iraq. I wished him
courage, and more luck, and when I resumed my place next to Gertrude, mentioned what I had
"I don't do that," she said,
bitterness in her voice. "I come from Uruguay. I live under military dictatorship! I
don't like any military!"
I was taken aback at her apparent lack of
humanity, but then I figured that if I lived under a military dictatorship, I probably
wouldn't be going around shaking Marines' hands, either.
And so it went. As I left the
protest, I had to again walk through the pro-Bush throng, this time with a big "GET
BUSH OUT" bumper sticker slapped on my chest. It was a dead giveaway! A mass of
people I had never met, and who knew nothing about me, and who might enjoy playing poker
with me, turned into a raging, sneering wall of antagonism.
"He can't take the truth!" shouted
"You're deluded!" shouted another.
All-in-all, I preferred my first visit to that
corner, when I accompanied my old man to work at the Douglas Aircraft Company back in a
simpler time called 1963.
BACK TO PAGE ONE
BACK TO RIPOSTE ARCHIVE