2003: THE YEAR OF PROTESTING CREATIVELY
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In 2003, so much went wrong so quickly that protesting became almost a full-time job. The good news is that many did it with style.
I was stuck in the old hold-a-candle-on-the-corner mode when I got a call from George Smith of Brattleboro, Vt., who suggested that since marching on the White House with candles and chants and songs wasn't working, why not march carrying caskets? Thousands of them, symbolizing the 513 Americans dead (so far) in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 5,000 Americans wounded, plus the countless dead and wounded Iraqis.
I thought it was a good idea, so I'm passing it along. Then I looked around and learned that many other people had found creative ways to protest in 2003.
In my opinion, this tactic is long overdue. Well-insulated, often nameless and faceless people make business and policy decisions that hurt - or have the potential to hurt - large numbers of us. Yet they are never held personally accountable. What Michael Moore did to such devastating effect when he pursued the head of General Motors in "Roger and Me" is now growing more widespread.
Animal rights activists, for example, have sent a hearse to the home of a biomedical company employee, and animal-cruelty videos to the wife of the head of Burger King. Holding posters, they have surrounded homes and staged vigils. According to the FBI, most of these "home demo" practices appear to be legal.
Not for one moment would I suggest violence or personal confrontation. But if, for example, the governor of my state sells out me and my neighbors by encouraging an aging nuclear power plant located close to us to extend its operations in exchange for money to clean up a lake near his home - hundreds of miles away from the nuclear power plant - and if writing impassioned and well-reasoned letters to him, the Public Service Board and the local newspapers produces no change in his heart, how could I fault people who surround his house holding up signs?
Or since Chief Justice William Rehnquist - who destroyed the democratic process by turning the country over to George W. Bush and the radical right, with the result that thousands of people have been killed while our real enemies, Islamic fundamentalists, have regrouped using our invasion of Iraq as a recruiting tool - has a home in Vermont, then what the hell are we waiting for?
This is one of my favorites. In Nigeria, an oil-rich country where most of the population is mired in poverty, several hundred Nigerian women staged sit-ins at oil installations. Demanding jobs for their husbands and sons and a share of the oil wealth for their own communities, they threatened to strip if their demands weren't met. In their culture, it seems, women strip as a method of shaming. They not only got what they wanted but inspired a movement around the world.
In protest against the invasion of Iraq, 750 Australian women stripped and formed with their naked bodies a heart encircling the words "No War." In Florida, 23 women stripped and formed a peace symbol. In several locations in California, a group calling itself Unreasonable Women Baring Witness stripped and used their bodies to make "Peace" and "No War" signs.
"Being nude is being vulnerable, and that's the message of peace," one Florida protester said.
The best female protest, however, came from the Lysistrata Project (www.lysistrataproject.com), an international women's group dedicated to Ghandi-inspired non-violent protest. On March 3, in 59 countries, they staged 1,029 readings of Aristophanes' 415 BC comedy "Lysistrata." That's the one in which a group of Greek women, fed up with warmongering, refuse to have sex with their husbands until they stop fighting. Are you listening, Laura?
A movement is growing to bring about change at the highest levels of AARP, which has been getting a free ride for far too long.
With 35 million members over the age of 50, AARP has long had the political clout to bringing about some form of universal health care system in America. Instead, it takes advantage of our dysfunctional health care system by selling health insurance and prescription drugs.
Now it has taken a giant step backward. Its president, public relations giant William D. Novelli, who once wrote the introduction to a book on health care by Newt Gingrich, and whose PR firm worked to oppose the Patients' Bill of Rights and scuttle the Clinton's health reform package, signed on with the Republicans for this year's mostly-disastrous Medicare drug bill.
While the bill will bring a small drug benefit to some seniors, it is mainly a giveaway to pharmaceutical companies and health insurers. At the same time, it threatens the underpinnings of Medicare by offering younger and wealthier Americans - the foundation of the system - a way to opt out.
In a letter he sent to all AARP members explaining his actions, Novelli admitted only that "the legislation is not perfect."
Now a group called Boycott AARP (boycottaarp.com) has formed. Among their suggestions to seniors: write the AARP magazine's advertisers and ask them to pull their ads; boycott their products; burn your AARP card. The Sixties live again!
So, Happy 2004! It promises to be a banner year for protesting, and I hope each and every one of you finds a creative way to bring about peaceful and positive change in the world.
The Lysistrata Project Website had a quote from Queen Elizabeth the First that, for me, says it best:
"If we have peace in our hearts the disorder and cruelty of life will not overwhelm us with despair, and if we have, even for a short while seen that flash of light from another country that men call inspiration we shall have the courage to attempt, however unsuccessfully, to do our part in quieting the disorder and quelling the cruelty; until we have battled through them and our rest is won.
"Drink deep of the well of peace that stands in ancient places, and leave behind you, for those who come after, that something of yourselves that is imperishable."
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who lives in southern Vermont and writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. She will be away for the month of January.