BERKELEY, Calif.—Berkeley is, of course, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, and I happened to be here the day after the election, so I got to witness the very first protest in what would become a virtual national epidemic over the next five days. But it was not the spiritual descendants of Mario Savio at the University of California who rose up in righteous rage—it was the students at Berkeley High School who declared a strike and marched up to the Campanile to vent their displeasure.
These were, in my opinion, the only demonstrators in the nation who actually did have a legitimate grievance: They were too young to vote and so could rightly feel betrayed by the clueless grown-ups who thought Hillary vs. The Donald constituted a presidential election.
Everybody else is just whining.
Back in Manhattan, I had to fight my way down Sixth Avenue against wave after wave of parading millennials who chose to use Veterans Day to create a sea of what New Yorkers call Yellow Brick Roaders. That’s when you walk four abreast or six abreast and hog the sidewalk, daring all comers to penetrate your advancing phalanx. Most of them were New York University students (cost of attendance: $66,000 per year) who obviously had either drill-team or high-school-band experience, given that they were able to step off the sort of eight-to-five cadence that my own saxophone section in the Parkview Patriots Marching Band would have enhanced with side-to-side Grambling-style instrument-swinging. Nevertheless, I was impressed by their four-measure two-four-time emphasis-on-the-downbeat right-foot chant:
(Imagine a rest on the first beat or an implied “and” at the beginning.)
It’s the third bar that makes it so perfect, since that triplet on “President” begs for a bass drum resolution. Add a drumline with a marching tenor set and this could be halftime material for NYU football, were it not for the fact that NYU played its last football game in 1952.
And that’s actually my explanation for why these demonstrations aren’t working: These people don’t play enough football. The mostly signless protesters (carrying placards would be too analog) are reviving slogans from both the ’60s (“My Love Is Stronger Than Your Hate”) and the ’70s (“My Body, My Choice!”) but tricking the scene out with Burberry scarves and SoulCycle compression leggings, presumably because they’re headed to spin class later. The old standby “Hell no, we won’t go!” doesn’t fit into the current algorithm, even though Trump is considered a dangerous warmonger, because, well, they don’t really have to go because all the 18- to 25-year-olds in the Trump states already volunteered to go in their place.
I’ve covered enough student demonstrations in my lifetime—including one in Houston where Iranian students were beaten with billy clubs by cops who play too much football—to be able to recognize this particular Sore Loser Movement as a mash-up of all previous revolutions, including Soul Revolution by the Wailers. And they’re versatile! Never before have so many would-be Saul Alinskys marched while simultaneously Snapchatting the proceedings. They should have a majorette regiment twirling selfie sticks.
My theory is that the Sixth Avenue demonstration was orchestrated by film students at the Tisch School of the Arts, since it’s like combining The Strawberry Statement (“Did you know Lenin loved women with big breasts?”) with Pokémon GO. I think one of them thought he caught an Infernape, the only Pokémon creature with orange hair, only to discover that his Apple newsfeed had gotten activated.
Dude! They just elected Infernape president!
But my question about all this is, Where is the LRH?
Where is the Love Reconciliation Healing?
In the weeks leading up to the election, I must have read twenty columns and blog posts starting out, “No matter who wins on November 8…blah blah blah…love of country…blah blah blah…tradition of gracious acceptance of loss…blah blah blah…loyal opposition is what makes democracy great…blah blah blah…Love…blah blah blah…across the aisle…Reconciliation…Nelson Mandela…blah blah blah…Healing….And, by the way, Donald, you need to promise you will accept the outcome even if you lose.”
No matter who wins on November 8.
As far as I can tell, this particular student movement can claim only one innovation: the safety pin.
They wear safety pins.
Emphasis on “safety.” They wanna feel safe.
As explained in their widely circulated safety-pin meme:
I AM SAFE.
If you are Muslim, a woman, LGBQ, a person of color, Latinx, trans, an immigrant, disabled, afraid…
I AM HERE.
I’ll hold you.
Stand up for you.
Sit down for you.
Shut up for you.
Do what I can to let you know
I LOVE YOU.
This sign is how you’ll know me.
The only thing they left out was “I’ll burp you.”
Maybe this is why you can be in the middle of one of these anti-Trump demonstrations and feel that whatever passion exists falls far short of actual confrontation. Forty-eight years ago, Tom Hayden and the Students for a Democratic Society, joined by celebrities like Allen Ginsberg and several hundred activists who served as a prototype for the emerging Black Panthers, not only took over buildings at Columbia University—just 110 blocks up Broadway from the NYU performance-art demonstration—but actually got into hand-to-hand combat situations with cops, leading to mass arrests. Whatever you thought about their actual causes—they were protesting Columbia’s involvement in top-secret government research—you had to admire the guts it took to wage real guerrilla warfare even though they were outmanned and outgunned.
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