The revered pugilist/philosopher Iron Mike Tyson once mused: “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.” And get hit everyone will. Case in point: Many of the Anybody-But-Bush (ABB) protesters who took to the streets of the Big Apple during the Republican National Convention in August 2004. I don’t just mean blows suffered at the hands of an over-eager policeman; I’m talking about the slings and arrows of activism as a life choice.
At the time, I wrote an article that questioned the strategy of only protesting the Republicans when the Democrats are barely distinguishable. I asked: “Where was the planned-for-months-in-advance outrage in Boston last month? The Hitler mustaches? The warnings about fascism? The cataloging of candidate crimes?” I also pondered the efficacy of “anti-authority types submitting to New York’s demands for polite opposition restricted to a pre-determined venue.” I summed up, calling this the “Michael McMoore era of dissent” and declared I would skip town during the RNC (I did spend two days at my in-laws’ house on Long Island but was back home in Astoria for at least half the convention.).
The result of my stance was a predictable mélange of misinterpretation by design, overreaction, and personal attack. Most interesting was the righteousness. Individuals much younger than I essentially branded me a traitor and scoffed at my absence. My commitment and activist “credentials” were being seriously questioned . . . as it were. Fine. I’ve heard much worse and my skin is NYC-thick.
Yet, although I’m aware how sincere and dedicated many of the 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”
Even in the face of urgent issues, dissent is a marathon…not a sprint. Activism is not about hating one man or even one party . . . it is holistic.
Twenty-somethings making clever Dick and Bush jokes may cultivate a more nuanced understanding of the “system” but, sadly, many will lose faith and focus . . . many will embrace compromise and denial.
What do my youthful 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 on a Sunday will stay the course, evolve, and maintain an open mind over the next few decades . . . when, as Tyson warns, they get hit? How many will stick to the plan?
Reality: Carrying a sign when you’re 21 rarely translates to remaining steadfast into your 40s . . . and beyond.