Sunday, May 22, 2005

Hey, hey, ho, ho, BLANK-ism has got to go!

Harumph. I just got back from a picket for a cause in which I firmly believe. The trouble was, the slogans the protesters were chanting were so redundant, so mind-numbingly repetitive, and so over-and-over-again repetitious, it was all I could do to not scream in frustration and run home.

Hey, hey, ho, ho, RACISM has got to go!

Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!

What do we want?

When do we want 'em?

I'm not going to give the details of this particular protest, because it is sadly similar to many protests I've been to the last few years. About the only one that was at all interesting to watch was the "No Blood for Volleyball" riots in Berkeley, and the riot aspect made it interesting in a bad way.

I will tell you about one over-the-top protest I saw a few years ago here in San Francisco. Local merchants had a problem with homeless people, particularly the ones who have consistently refused all mental-health care, some of whom would quite aggressively panhandle anyone walking by, including, of course, prospective customers of our local merchants. The merchants came up with a program called "Create Change, Don't Hand It Out!" The simple message was, you can do far more to help the problem by giving a dollar to a soup kitchen than by giving it to an individual homeless person. Best-case scenario, the panhandler buys a cheap burger and fries. If I had to imagine a nightmare worse than Super-Size Me, it would be to eat only at McDonald's, but only the meals for which I could scrounge up spare change. Compared to that scenario, eating at a soup kitchen doesn't sound so bad. (On the other hand, if the soup has garbonzo beans and jalapeƱos in it, count me out.)

But back to the story of the protest. The signs the merchants put in their windows included suggestions of groups with whom to help create change, including food banks and such. But still, in any way discouraging panhandling is taking away those people's freedom of choice to live homeless in a hostile city while scrounging up barely enough money to buy utter crap for food. So the protesters picketed in front of a local store whose owner led the "Create Change, Don't Hand It Out" campaign. They yelled repetitive slogans, with just an occasional word changed from whatever last week's protest was about. And I went inside to buy a cookie from that store, when I hadn't had in mind to buy a cookie until I saw the protest. I bought the cookie and then came out and ate it right in the face of the protesters, and even thanked them for giving me the idea to go get a cookie.

Tonight, at a different protest (although with many of the same faces), I saw other people defiantly crossing the picket line, knowing nothing but that they were tired of hearing the same tired old fill-in-the-blank one-size-fits-all slogans.

America doesn't need unyielding mindless Bushniks, but it doesn't need unyielding mindless anti-Bushniks either. "Unyielding" is high praise if and only if it is tempered by reason.

(Want to do something about racism? Make a donation to the United Negro College Fund or the Southern Poverty Law Center.)