Two Sides

November 25, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Society

From my sophomore to junior year in high school I went from selling fruitcake for my Boy Scout troop to selling buttons and bumper stickers for my anti-war group.  I grew up in a merchant family and looked at the world as an opportunity to sell things.  I didn’t exactly have the personality for it.  I was shy, but I was moderately obsessed with numbers and so made a numbers game out of whatever I was trying to encourage people to purchase.

That money bought stuff never seemed particularly relevant.

So my contribution to the Left in the 1960s and 1970s was mostly handling the accounting for the various things that were exchanged.  Forty years later, at protest planning meetings, I mostly handle display and transfer of information because web development is my profession.  Watching and listening to organizers in meetings, I notice that same deadpan earnestness I remember from my youth, but relations today are plagued by decades of hurt feelings and activists taking personally the former strategic decisions of their peers.  I am constantly astonished by how often present behaviors are informed by past disappointments or frustrations.  Experiencing forgiveness is not a common experience in the Leftist avocation.  Training oneself to be vigilant of abuse skews one’s world view toward being nonaccepting.

And there is perhaps the deepest irony of the Left.  Focused on needed change, the Left has a difficult time perceiving change when it occurs.

Nevertheless, these days it is not the Left that is receiving media attention.

I wonder what the organizing meetings of the Right look like.  Is it men in suits in hotel meeting rooms, suburban homes or offices?  Is there a budget for food being brought in?  Do attendees all go out and drink or go to a restaurant after meetings?  Are these all people that have worked together before and share tactics and strategies?  Are these almost all men with political connections?

Early last autumn, watching video of the September 12 D.C. demonstrations, I found myself trying to parse out differences between these two political extremes.  Whereas large national demonstrations of the Left haphazardly emerge from coalitions with no single person influencing the outcome, on the right, figures like Dick Armey or Glenn Beck almost single-handedly propel events into national prominence.  They have money and/or media control, providing enhanced one-to-many communications.  On the right, name recognition goes a long way.

At demonstrations of the Left, participants often move in people clumps as they congregate with a particular organization that they identify with.  Costume is common.  Of course, long hair and hippie affects are ubiquitous.  Other dress conventions such as anarchist attire and union tee shirts can be found.  Music is often integral to the contribution, often in the form of drums.  Education institutions are widely represented with students and professors.  Youth dress, which includes backpacks, music, head attire, jeans, beards and no bras, all signal a Left event.  Unlike organizing for a protest, where organization representatives seem often dour, at the events themselves there is often a sense of jubilation.  Participants seem to be celebrating their participation.

At the September 12 event, the tea bag protests and the town hall gatherings of the Right displayed a different aesthetic.  Attire seemed mostly to signal that the individual was a person that was not a member of a specific group.  Whereas on the left there is an almost aboriginal compulsion to signal tribal association, on the right the display of conventional clothing itself is a proclamation that the participant is an “American.”

Whereas a default frame of reference on the left is peace, on the right there is a respect or reverence for physical, even violent, intervention.  Guns are often heralded as a symbol of independence.  Wars are looked at as essential and reasonable ways of relating to societies that retain competing beliefs or agendas.  On the left, there is a deep sensitivity toward oligarchic and fascist behaviors in government.  On the right, there is this hyperawareness of socialism and fascism, as if the two are closely related.

On the right, placard-bearers often display the words they have seen or heard on TV and AM radio, tied to viewpoints that originated in a specific place within mainstream media.  On the left, signs bear slogans that represent opinions shared at the level of individual conversations.  Rarely are the words on signs from a living individual, let alone a media figure.

I attended an anti-war protest in September of 2005, in D.C., that brought in more than 300,000 people.  That’s my estimate, not the estimate of the organizers, which was far higher.  There was no media coverage.  None, with the exception of a mention on CNN.  Estimates for this year’s September 12 protest were 50,000 to 70,000 people, and that protest got strong coverage on all networks.

At a Left protest it is relatively difficult to distinguish the truly strange, those individuals bearing beliefs suggesting paranoia or a personality disorder.  The crazies dress in ways that look like everybody else, with the rare exception of those distressed individuals that dress really strange.  At a Right protest, those with truly strange perspectives, those that use FOX and AM radio as their exclusive sources of information, seem to be everywhere.  Those with deeply unconventional perspectives are the norm.  It seems to me that on the right there are many people without personality disorders that bear extreme beliefs because their sources of information are very specific and often wrong.  This seems partly a function of education.  I get the impression that a far larger percentage of the Left has a university or college education.

Most video of the September 12 tea bag and town hall events focuses on the most extreme cases of opinion.  If video portraying the Left did the same, I believe we’d look less strangely extreme, but it would not be a complimentary perspective.  Those with the most rage often emerge on these videos promoted by the other side.  The Left embraces compassion.  The Right extols forgiveness.  You’d never know this from the information that gets exchanged.

Not unlike when I was young, nowadays numbers are still often how I interpret my experience.  At demonstrations, even big ones, I count the protesters.  I pay close attention to how the events are promoted and conducted.  I find the logistics more interesting than the words.

Following the Right Wing protests and comparing them to Left events, I am struck by the differences.  Clearly, there is jubilation on both sides.  Protesters seem to display exultation with their expressions of dismay.  Yet, on the left, there is the idea that an ideal world exists.  On the right, there seems no such sensibility.  On the left, there is the desire that each and every person feel supported.

On the right, it seems that an ideal world is one where that individual protester gets what he or she wants.


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