I was fortunate enough to accompany Ken Kesey and his psychedelic Band of Merry Pranksters when the Grateful Dead played the Pyramids–and won–at a series of outdoor concerts in 1978. During that week, Kesey and I were dinner guests at the home of an Egyptian family in Cairo. Later, the men smoked hashish from a huge hookah. The women stayed in the kitchen, and I grumbled to Kesey about that gender gap.
“When in Rome,” he responded, “do as the Egyptians do.”
A shy six-year-old girl was peeking us through a beaded curtain, and I waved to her. She waved back, giggled and disappeared. But I have not the slightest doubt that now, at the age of 39, she was among the countless female protestors celebrating in the streets those early tremors of freedom. Were no longer to be considered second-class citizens? However, 95% of Egyptian women had been victims of genital mutilation (forced clitoral circumcision was banned in 1997), gang rapes are still occurring, and political patriarchy continues to undermine their equality.
On the same Sunday in January 2011 that the revolution in Egypt was peaking, I found myself in Rancho Mirage, California, at a rally against David and Charles Koch—pronounced “coke”—and so I call them the Coke brothers. Many placards featured the Coca-Cola logo on a red background, with the slogan, “Everything goes better without Koch.”
The multi-billionaire Coke brothers—funders and manipulators of the Tea Party; oil merchants who opposed reduction of air pollution, claiming that smog prevents skin cancer–were now hosting a secret meeting with 200 wealthy elitists at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort, heavily guarded by sixty Riverside County sheriff’s deputies in riot gear.
Incidentally, the sheriff is actually named Stan Sniff.
The Coke brothers were beneficiaries of the 2009 Supreme Court decision that granted personhood to corporations, meaning that they could clandestinely support conservative politicians without any accountability, and in 2010 the Court ruling that corporations—and unions, which the Coke brothers are attempting to demolish–could spend unlimited sums on campaign advertising.
The anti-Coke rally was held in a parking lot across the street from the resort. Jim Hightower—activist and the author of There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos and Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow–was speaking. “These Justices are as confused as goats on astroturf,” he told the audience of 1,000. “We need to pass a constitutional amendment that says a corporation does not have the rights of a person.”
Two weeks later, the mystery behind the Coke brothers conclave would be revealed, linking them to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Koch Industries—which employs 70,000 people—had been the largest corporate contributor to his campaign, so it’s no surprise that Walker was busy sucking up to his puppeteers as he followed their wishes to destroy the American labor movement. In fact, Americans for Prosperity, a front group for the Coke brothers—which organized a rally in Wisconsin to support the governor–has launched a website which propagandizes against all collective bargaining.
The dedicated protesters in Madison were inspiring, and it was the brilliant political prank phone call to Governor Walker from blogger Ian Murphy pretending to be David Koch that inadvertently disclosed the mindset Walker shared with the real David Koch. Fake David said, “We’ll back you any way we can. But what we were thinking about the crowd was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.” Walker replied, “We thought about that,” but he was only afraid the plan might backfire.
At the “Uncloak Koch” rally, Jim Hightower had said, “I hate to be rude and intrude on a secret meeting, but there comes a time when America’s imperiled democracy requires ordinary grass root people to rebel, and to be rude enough to intrude on the people applauding corporate plutocrats who are so rude as to usurp our democratic rights.
“Listen, this billionaires’ caucus thought that they could meet secretly, but you pulled back the curtain on them behind which they had been hiding—such front groups as Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, Freedom Works, even the Tea Party themselves—we pulled back the curtain and there they are, Charles and David, the modern-day Wizards of Oz, only Ozier, don’t you think?”
Later, while police were dispersing the demonstrators, conservative media manipulator Andrew Breitbart–who had brought along his protégé, video propagandist James O’Keefe–entered the scene on rollerblades and heckled the crowd through a bullhorn: “We’ve had a great day,” he shouted sarcastically. “Let’s all go to Applebee’s!” A couple of months later, Breitbart would be on CNN, complaining to Piers Morgan that O’Keefe is “held to a different standard. In the history of journalism, you have people like Hunter Thompson, PAUL KRASSNER and Abbie Hoffman, who’ve been outrageous in trying to get their points across and have used journalism to do so . . .”
I went backstage to see Jim Hightower. He had flown in from Texas for the Coke Brothers event and was energized by the spirit of the rally. “It ain’t Egypt, though,” I observed.
“Not exactly,” he chuckled.
The Egyptian people want to have regular elections just like we do here in America, as epitomized by the sexist slogan, “One man, one vote.” Unfortunately, when the Supreme Court (5-4) designated George Bush as president after his contentious campaign against Al Gore in 2000, that “one man” happened to be Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Years later, after her retirement, O’Connor said that she thought her decision had been a mistake. But, then, we all make mistakes, right?
Anyway, I was pleased that, at the 2011 Academy Awards, a couple of lesser-known winners stressed in their acceptance speeches the importance of unions and collective bargaining. However, I was disappointed that The King’s Speech, recipient of the Oscar for best picture, didn’t end like a Looney Tunes cartoon, with Porky Pig in the center of shrinking concentric circles, saying, “Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”
PAUL KRASSNER is the editor of The Realist. His books include: Pot Stories for the Soul, One Hand Jerking and Murder at the Conspiracy Convention. He is author of many books including Who’s to Say What’s Obscene?, published by City Lights Books. He can be reached through his website: http://paulkrassner.com/.