“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
– Japanese proverb
In the words of Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.”
And get hit everyone will…
Case in point: Many of those Anybody-But-Bush protesters who took to the streets of the Big Apple during the Republican National Convention (RNC) a decade ago, in summer 2004.
And when I say “hit,” I don’t just mean the inevitable blows from the notorious Blue Bloc. I’m talking about suffering the slings and arrows of activism as a long-term life choice within a commodity culture of pervasive denial.
Just before the 2004 RNC, I wrote an article that questioned the strategy of activists only protesting the Republicans. Among other questions, I asked: “Where was the planned-for-months-in-advance outrage at the DNC in Boston last month? The Hitler mustaches? The warnings about fascism? The cataloging of candidate crimes?”
I said then and I say now: The primary difference between Republicans and Democrats is that they tell different lies to get elected.
A decade ago, I also pondered the efficacy of “anti-authority types submitting to New York City’s demands for polite opposition restricted to a pre-determined venue” and declared I might just skip town during the RNC. (I did spend two days on Long Island but was back in the city for at least half the convention.)
“Activism is not about hating one man or even one party,” I warned, “it’s holistic.”
The result of my stance was a predictable mélange of misinterpretation by design, overreaction, and personal attack. Most interesting was the righteousness. Individuals — often much younger than I and with very little previous activist experience — essentially branded me a traitor and scoffed at my planned absence. My commitment and my radical “credentials” were seriously questioned.
Fine. I’ve heard much worse (and sometimes still do). My skin is NYC-thick.
Ten Years After
While I was more than aware how sincere and dedicated many of those RNC demonstrators were, I kept hearing a line from The Clash over and over in my head: “I believe in this and it’s been tested by research: He who fucks nuns will later join the church.”
So yeah, a few of those twenty-somethings making clever Dick and Bush jokes in 2004 may have cultivated a more nuanced understanding of the “system” but, sadly, many more lost faith and focus. In the face of societal pressure and overwhelming odds, many embraced compromise and denial.
Besides, what did my critics know of my choices and sacrifices? Sure, I’m not digging ditches in Myanmar and I have no desire to overstate my meager hardships, but how many of those who paraded through Manhattan for a few hours in 2004 remain active?
How many stayed the course, evolved, and maintained an open mind over the next decade when, as Tyson warned, they got hit — over and over again?
Did they stick to the plan? Are they still on the streets? Have they expanded their vision of justice and liberation to challenge all forms of oppression?
In August 2004, I wrote the following: “Carrying a sign when you’re 21 rarely translates to remaining steadfast into your 40s… and beyond.”
It’s an ageist comment, I know, so here’s my 2014 version: Even in the face of urgent, ecocidal issues, dissent is a marathon, not a sprint. With authentic solidarity, a daily ego check, and an enduring willingness to evolve, we can each find our pace and help make a difference.
Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on a couple of obscure websites called Facebook and Twitter. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.