The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, April 22, 2002  


The late, great Gilda Radner, the first comedian selected for the cast of Saturday Night Live, had among her large arsenal of memorable characters one Rhonda Weiss. Discussing her coming to maturity during the ‘60s and ‘70s, Weiss expressed her aversion to political activism: “I’ve always found protests to be kind of pushy and whiney.”

The story came to mind this morning as we read the various accounts of yesterday’s gathering of sundry activists in Washington, D.C. To Weiss’s pushy and whiney, we would add disorganized and incoherent, arrogant and irrelevant.

It’s hard to take protests like this one seriously. They are best appreciated as public spectacle, what with the cranky, disheveled, and self-righteous masses offering the usual tired slogans and chants. Even the sympathetic write-up from The Nation is (we think) unintentionally humorous.

“I think the movement is beginning to wake up,” one Valerie Mullen “exclaimed” to John Nichols, who reported on the event for “The Online Beat,” a column served up at Mullen certainly offers a long-term perspective; she is described as “an 80-year-old anti-war activist from Vermont.” Vermont; where else? Why Mullen has stuck with this sleeping movement until her 80th year is a question we’ll leave to others.

According to Nichols, the primary message of the various assembled protestors was opposition to “corporate globalization.”

For those unaware, “corporate globalization” refers to the manner in which the normal conduct of business has become international in scope, rather than confined to the borders of a single country. It is a trend that is as old as Miss Mullen herself, but one that is treated by certain elements of both the left and the right as “a crisis” they themselves discovered circa 1999.

Mark Rickling of the Mobilization for Global Justice, an organizer of the day’s festivities, said his group brought thousands of people to Washington “to protest corporate globalization in general and the spring meeting of World Bank and International Monetary Fund mandarins in particular.”

It’s not clear from the text whether that is Rickling or’s Nichols speaking, but, no matter, a mouthpiece is a mouthpiece.

As we all have learned by now, assemble thousands of leftists and miscellaneous crack-pots in one location -- whether it’s the Mall in Washington or the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association -- and watch the agenda fly out of control.

Yesterday’s gathering was a veritable leftist Tower of Babel. “The demonstrators who came to Washington . . . sought to deliver many messages,” writes Nichols.

“The Mobilization for Global Justice protests against the World Bank, the IMF, corporate globalization and third-world debt are a rite of spring in Washington,” reports Nichols. But with so little time and so many causes, Sunday’s party had its crashers and hangers-on.

“The A20 Mobilization to Stop the War at Home and Abroad [Ed.: Just rolls of the tongue, no?] chose the weekend to mount the first large-scale protest in the U.S. against Bush’s proposals to dramatically expand the ‘war on terrorism,’ and with it an already bloated Pentagon budget,” according to Nichols.

Meanwhile, Nichols adds, “Opponents of U.S. policies in Latin America marched in opposition to ‘Plan Colombia’ aid to that country’s military.”

Organizers also described the event as “the largest show of support for Palestinian rights ever in the nation’s Capitol [sic], perhaps in the U.S.,” relays Nichols.

Although they weren’t mentioned, we’re certain that supporters of Wesley Cook, a.k.a. “Mumia Abu-Jamal,” and the Left’s shining luminosa Lori Berenson were on hand as well.

Never mind the cacophony. Nichols manages to capture to spirit of unity that enveloped the day’s events, arriving at this stunning non-sequitir: “The messages of the multiple movements came together in banners that read, ‘Drop debt, not bombs.’” Oh. We get it now.

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