: I spent last night around the HQ of the protest movement as I came and went from the PS122 blog event; buzz all about.
I heard people talking excitedly about getting arrested. For some, it is the goal; it’s part of the game; it’s fun; it’s a badge of honor. Not for others.
Julian Sanchez of Reason’s convention blog was pacing back and forth at 10 m.p.h. getting updates on his cell about a bomb square downtown and he told me about covering a bunch of arrests at the World Trade Center, a game of he-said-she-said orderly-or-disorderly.
Arrest used to be about steel: steel handcuffs, steel bars. Now it’s about plastic: plastic strips on your wrists, plastic netting to pen in the protestors until they’re processed.
Fellow blogger Rossi almost got arrested last night — she didn’t want to, her other half did — and she blogged about it immediately.
And I’m waiting to get the report from John Perry Barlow, who was supposed to be on the panel last night but who was off dancing as protest in midtown and was sending in SMS messages relayed to the crowd at PS122. Arrests were happening, he reported. We have no idea whether he danced or danced free or danced into plastic bars.
I certainly understand the arrest-as-protest thing. It was the metaphor of protest of my age, first for civil rights, then for Vietnam. I never got arrested (wimp!) but it happened all the time, all around.
But now, it seems like an odd means to an end. Does getting arrested help make the point? Well, it does if you’re arrested by the enemy. But New York isn’t the enemy or an agent of it. The New York cops are generally polite and friendly (and happy for all the overtime pay). New York is a Democratic town; this ain’t Texas. Matt Welch said yesterday that it’s a different matter in L.A., when you can’t see the beetle-eyes of cops behind sunglasses, you fear arrest or worse. In New York, you fear a gruff grunt and plastic jail. Hell, the one person seriously injured so far in the protests was a cop.
So do you have to get arrested to make your point? I don’t think so. Do the cops have to arrest to keep order? In many cases, no.
When I spoke with Jay Rosen last night, he said that too many people — media people particularly — are trying vainly to make 2004 into 1968, though there really are very few parallels; they are different times with different causes, a different experience.
If getting arrested isn’t necessary to make your point or to get publicity or to make the power look by by turning the arresting agent into the bad guy, then is getting arrested really a form of protest nostalgia?
I said the other day that demonstrations themselves feel a bit anachronistic in this age when people have so many new ways to be heard.
The conventions are certainly anachronisitc in this age when all the decisions are already made and all the spin well spun.
So everything the city is going through this week is so oddly anachronistic … EXCEPT the concrete and steel barriers everywhere, and the cops and soldiers with huge guns, and the checkpoints where we our bags are checked as if we were in Tel Aviv, and the huge trucks filled with sand and steel ramps meant to stop suicide trucks, and the Checkpoint Charlies on our streets, many of which are closed. That we have never seen before. That is new. And that is because the real enemy isn’t the other side in a political argument or a mayor or a cop or a president. The real enemy is a band of sick terrorists who killed thousands of us only a mile south of here three years ago next week. That is the real war and there’s nothing fun or a game about it.
So, oddly, the anachronisms of the convention and of the protests on the other side are oddly comforting. OK, we’ll all play along and nominate the president who’s already nominated and we’ll wrap you in plastic and play along. It all looks like a game.