Thursday, mid-afternoon, April 11, 2019 I was sitting in a NYC Starbucks bent over my laptop getting ready to return home to grab some sleep to recover from a late-night work shift.
I was delayed due to my processing the fresh horror of the brutish arrest and removal of Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Suddenly at 2:30pm an email popped up in my inbox announcing two New York City demonstrations both scheduled for 4:30pm at UK establishments to protest extradition of Assange by the UK to the United States.
I was relieved to see there was activism happening in NYC already on Assange’s behalf and reasoned that if I weren’t so sleep-deprived I would assuredly be attending one of them myself.
“Yadda, yadda, yadda” … my sleep-craving brain commenced wrestling with my conscience. I wondered which would prevail.
Assange had sacrificed his own quality of life for seven hard years and God and/or the devil only knew the fresh hells he would now be facing from a global neoliberal mafia that had no hesitation killing millions of innocent human beings for profit and power, and hadn’t liked at all being called out on that by whistleblowers like Manning and Assange.
This mafia was supported by a corporate media propaganda crusade so saturatingly effective and mendacious that reality was getting harder and harder for ordinary people to keep track of, as well as communicate about. Especially thanks to the neo-McCarthyism currently conflating any critics of the criminality of leaders of western countries or their allies with a traitorous collusion with Russia, except for the times when to criticize collusion with or enabling of apartheid and murderous Israel was conflated with anti-Semitism.
Wikileaks early on published Bush era war crimes re Iraq and Afghanistan for anyone seriously interested.
Why weren’t more American politicians and citizens interested and outraged over those Wikileaks disclosures throughout these long, disastrously governed years since the launch of those wars and all the subsequent ones, as well?
Establishment politicians and other DC insider careerists were more embarrassed and stirred to vengeance by the Wikileaks revelations, rather than seriously legally threatened, thanks to their own conscience-sacrificed participation in the high levels of political, economic and military cronyism.
Both corporate political parties protected the other from real justice for their profound violations and/or enabling of violations of basic human decency, as well as of international law.
There had been so many enlightening disclosures from Wikileaks about corruption and criminality in the halls of power globally, but it seemed to me when Assange revealed the dirty dealings of the primary-rigging Democratic Party establishment and presidential candidate Hillary, an hysterical “collective ego” of the Democratic Party’s authoritarian followers became usefully weaponized against Assange and the rest of us on the real Left by that global neoliberal mafia.
The Democratic Party joined up shamelessly and overtly with the Deep State with its globally disseminated death squads as well as with the pro-war Republican neocons, equally corporate-captured, bonded to “kill” literally or figuratively two of the world’s most dramatic messengers of truth of profound and extensive global evil, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning.
The vengeful and enraged, faux-progressive Democratic authoritarian followers’ “collective ego” was additionally fueled by “the end justifies ANY means” righteousness of Trump Derangement Syndrome, as well as its being seemingly forever stuck in the “denial phase” of the five stages of 2016 post election grief.
Along with the diabolical rigging of their own primary – HELLO????? – the Podesta emails revealed the criminal conflict of interests of Hillary Clinton with the substantial economic support from terrorism-friendly countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The emails highlighted Hillary’s war criminality as Secretary of State in the tragic destruction of Libya. They also presented transcripts of her well-rewarded (by Goldman Sachs) speeches expressing her full out devotion to Wall Street over Main Street.
Also revealed, if I recall correctly, was how the Clintons actually encouraged Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, assuming it would ensure Hillary an easy victory. Why weren’t the Trump-haters more bothered by that particular tidbit of truth?
My conscience won. At 4pm I headed for the nearest address on that email: 545 Third Avenue. Apparently this was home to the UK Trade and Investment office. As I got off the 6 train at 51st Street I wondered how many of my fellow exit-ers were also aiming themselves at the same destination.
At exactly 4:30pm I located the building, despite the mistaken cross street cited in the email. It was a looming black building mid-block on the East side of Third with NO ONE assembling outside.
My heart sank.
Maybe the protest was taking place inside the building? That would mean it was a rather modest‑sized protest I mourned. If it even was that.
Or maybe my sleepy, addled brain had read the email entirely wrong. Did I get everything upside down? Was the email simply reporting two protests in the UK? Were the addresses there and their streets simply similar-sounding to ours in Manhattan?
I leaned against the concrete container of a potted tree and began to search my I-Phone for the original email. Suddenly a pleasant-faced man slowed up next to me and indicated the shoulder of my coat. I was confused for a second, then remembered the peace sign pin I often attached there.
I smiled and nodded.
I think the pin accounted for some confusing and sustained looks I sometimes got from fellow passengers sitting near me on the subway. Sadly, no thumbs up or hardy smiles of validation from them for the idea of peace. It was more like I was being appraised as an alien visitor from a non-hostile but remote planet.
“Where is everybody?” he asked.
“Maybe inside?” I offered, unconvincingly.
As we turned to the entrance a kind-faced security guard came out and informed us the protest would be taking place at the other address in the email announcement.
The two of us snappily headed to 855 Second Avenue, the main UK consulate building.
We chatted as best we could, scurrying along a sidewalk beginning to fill up with early rush hour pedestrian traffic. He lamented to me Assange’s recent provocative rebelliousness to Ecuador’s Moreno.
Heading East on 51st Street we passed the 17th Police Precinct. He slowed and indicated that he had been brought there under arrest after a Bosnian demonstration long ago. He explained the legal proceedings had been so drawn out that the police finally did not even bother showing up to testify against the arrestees.
I suddenly felt like a lightweight. “I’ve never been arrested,” I confessed to him. “I came close three times.” I added lamely.
As we hastened down Second Avenue he pointed excitedly toward the next intersection. “There we all are!!!”
“We are? Where?”
I peered ahead but could make out no significant collection of protesters. I did notice a string of police cars parked on the curb mid-block and four police officers outside of those cruisers looking the same direction we were heading.
“I still don’t see anyone.”
“Not the far corner. The near corner,” he insisted.
Finally I saw them. Half a dozen people with signs hugging the street side of the sidewalk right near the corner.
My heart plummeted once again. In all of Manhattan??? THIS WAS THE BEST WE COULD DO?????
I noticed four casually dressed young men with expensive looking cameras buzzing about taking pictures of the tiny crew of activists. It seemed cruelly ironic that the cops and photographers outnumbered the protesters.
I did not recognize any of the sign holders, but my new acquaintance was clearly buddies with most of them, exchanging hugs.
I yanked my own small camera out of my knapsack and clicked a picture of them. Then I joined the line-up at one end. An older woman with a bag of protest signs stepped out of line and approached me, offering me one. It was about defending whistleblowers. She was much shorter than I, with a beautifully serene face beneath a graying but youthful hairdo. My artist self suddenly yearned to draw her portrait.
I balanced the poster beneath my arm for a minute while I took the opportunity to blow my nose. I prayed I wasn’t re-catching the cold and flu it had taken me ages to shake. I gratefully discovered a pair of gloves and ear muffs stuffed into the pockets of my winter coat. The winter coat I had almost chosen not to wear, since the brilliant sunlight of the day belied its cool temperature and wind activity.
I lifted the poster in front of me aiming it at times toward the sidewalk passers-by and when there was a lull turning toward the vehicular passengers, though unfortunately the writing was probably not large enough to be read easily by them.
It had been a while since I had done sidewalk activism. I had leafletted weekly during both presidential campaigns of the Green Party’s Jill Stein.
New Yorkers are special masters of that so-called “dog face” look of expressionlessness. Easy to pick out the tourists among them, who can’t sustain bold but non-committal eye contact like we pros. Most passers-by swept their looks at the poster, my face and away efficiently and without reaction. I wondered if I were as expressionless hiding my annoyance during those moments. I hoped so.
Finally, a young man on a bike gave me a slight smile and a nod as he streamed by.
Within the next half hour our ranks had doubled to a whopping dozen.
I gradually began to chat with some that had joined the line to my right. We shared our frustration about the small number of us. I told them about going to the other address and finding no one there at first. I was picking up the sense, once again, that those about me were far more serious and long-time activists than myself — more accustomed to and less emotionally judgmental of (if not entirely serene about) the apathy of their fellow New Yorkers.
I found myself mourning to three of them my recent month-long, apparently now permanent suspension (without explanation) from Twitter after four years and nearly 5,000 followers. They were interested and comforting. I explained that according to the statistics Twitter posted it seemed I was reaching an average of 25,000 timelines a day with my tweets and re-tweets.
“Mind you, some of those timelines would be inactive, maybe the tweeters were at work or asleep. All that glorious access to express my opinions,” I exclaimed. “But I mostly posted powerful quotes or statistics from lefty websites doing great muckraking homework!!!”
“It certainly beats this!” I finished, forlornly indicating the distracted and/or curt pedestrians rushing by.
We began sharing our frustrations at being reduced to political “extremists” by our real life networks. One woman confided that her volunteer service for animals had been rejected recently because of her inconvenient political views, even though her help was sorely needed by the Dem purist running the program.
In no time it was 6pm, half an hour beyond the time frame indicated on the email.
Though chilled, I didn’t want to separate from those kindred spirits. I watched them scurry off. I had only managed to catch a couple of first names. It had been like a political therapy session for me. Those precious fellow New Yorkers, not enthralled to hypocritical Dem politicians or those late-night, Assange-character-assassinating, hipster celebrities.
As I walked slowly back toward the subway I felt grateful I had made the effort. Though exhausted I decided to duck into a coffee shop or fast food restaurant somewhere near the subway to warm up and wait out the final stage of the rush hour crowd before heading home.
I also wanted to ponder the swirling thoughts and feelings stimulated by the last few hours. Along with my initial horror of the persecution of Assange, there was the added horror over an apparent lack of feet-on-the-ground support for him even among the New York City masses.
On a positive note, I also wanted to savor the support and inspiration from the activists I had just met.
I had sworn off commercial TV for a while, but I was aware enough through family, friends and coworkers what shape the current media propaganda about Assange was taking.
When I later began to mention my participation in the protest to my real life network I was eagerly told such things as how unpleasant a fellow Assange apparently was or the untidy condition of his cat’s litter box.
No one mentioned how Ecuador’s Moreno received the promise of a $4.2 billion IMF loan to end Assange’s asylum.
No one mentioned long time and escalating US and UK war criminality.
No one mentioned how Hillary and the DNC rigged the Democratic primary.
No one mentioned the evil re-punishment of Chelsea Manning.
I considered that in spite of enduring fresh and frustrating Twitter withdrawal, at least I wouldn’t be facing psychological and physical torture in UK and US prisons in the next weeks, months, years, or decades. I would not be facing down a kangaroo court making a mockery of basic justice and human decency.
I thought of the final scenes in that old movie, A Man for All Seasons, with the wonderful Paul Scofield. Sir Thomas Moore is up against a system so corrupt, so willing to destroy any law or individual in its way, to justify the continuation of its corrupt will. The grounds of Moore’s faux-legal persecution and prosecution became flimsier and ever more arbitrary. Such now is the case with Assange along with Manning, and idiot, state-friendly journalists are so craven and/or obtuse they are willing to assist in the demise of what is left of their own legal protections helped by those popular corporate media shills who, too, place fame, money and access over conscience.
How frustrating propaganda-filled minds couldn’t begin to fathom the degrees of sacrifice and courage of the Julian Assanges, Chelsea Mannings and Edward Snowdens of the world. So many were willing to turn off their own consciences and parrot the smug callousness of the corporate media and/or amoral politicians and military leaders shamelessly serving their donor overlords or fellow war criminals rather than the rest of us.
Are our arms really too short to box with corporate media I wondered in frustration.
It sadly seemed so.