Why Johnny Can’t Protest: Reflections on December 16th

One can imagine a future where protesters who chained themselves to the White House fence last Thursday tell their grandchildren about being a part of it.

The good news is that it may be well on the way to becoming legendary, joining iconic Vietnam and Civil rights era Washington protests in our collective memories.  If so, this will be at least in part due to a remarkable and deeply moving video documenting the event for posterity.

Framed by a searingly prophetic oration of Chris Hedges, alongside a Lincolneque cameo by Daniel Ellsberg, a procession of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans function as a kind of Greek chorus, bearing witness to the human wreckage of war, which they both inflicted and suffer from themselves, living breathing testimonies to Hedges “War is a Force which Gives us Meaning” and his subsequent, even more radical books.

But while recognizing that halcyon possibility we must also splash ourselves with some cold water. For in an important sense, the demonstration might as well not have happened in that very few, relatively speaking, have any inkling that any such thing — the largest demonstration of Veterans at the White House since Vietnam — even occurred.

The reason, as has been noted by Dave Lindorff among others, is by now predictable: it was barely mentioned within those channels through which most get their information, which is to say, through major media: network television, high profile dailies and internet news outlets.

The underlying explanation for this blackout should also be well known by now which is that the establishment media does not challenge but rather serves power.

We need to stop complaining and simply recognize corporate media complicity and censorship as the fact of life it is.  And given this fact, we need to redirect our attention to monitoring those media outlets and individuals who claim to offer alternative to the corporate mainstream and give voice to the left, such as it is.

And this means, specifically, that we need to ask certain questions about their relationship to this event.

Among these are why did left media outlets such as Common Dreams, Alternet, Counterpunch, Znet and others devote relatively little attention to the protest in the days leading up to it, even when it was already clear that it would be a major act of civil disobedience that needed, and deserved, to be reinforced by thousands of others?   As for well known left writers such as Thomas Frank, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Katrina van den Heuvel why did they fail to write pieces in support of it, or even mention it, within the high profile platforms they have access to, thus getting the word out to many thousands some of whom were sure to have participated?

We can only infer the answers to these questions.  But for at least two members of what might be called the “left establishment”  we now have some grounds for making inferences.  These are based on a recent initiative which attempted to move some of these figures from their prior positions of support, albeit highly critical support, of the administration into active opposition.  Thus, in his reaction to the initiative (which he characterized as “weirdness”)  Tom Hayden described the demonstration as “somewhat jusfified” while expressing doubts as to whether “it was a smart idea to begin with.”  In short, an event of relatively little consequence, though Hayden did mention that civil disobedience could be “healing” for those participating in it.

In his reaction, Bill Fletcher made no comment on the demonstration confining his remarks to the observation that he was a strong critic of the administration.

It should be noted in this connection that while failing to mention the December 16th event, even when specifically requested to do so, Fletcher has been actively involved in Washington demonstrations since the Obama administration took office, most notably the union-sponsored One Nation rally on October 5.

The differences between the two protests could not be more stark and are highly revealing.

First, one was a rally held at the Lincoln Memorial some distance from the White House while the other centered around civil disobedience at the White House fence.

Secondly, more significantly, the Veterans directly and passionately criticized the Obama administration and its policies.  In contrast, at the One Nation rally, according to Patrick Martin of the World Socialist website:

Nearly every speaker combined warnings of the consequences of a Republican victory in the November 2 election with appeals to those attending the rally to spend the next month in all-out campaigning for a Democratic Party victory. There was no examination of the actual policies of the Democrats, still less of the relatively insignificant differences between the two big business parties.

There was no criticism of the Obama administration by name, even by speakers who criticized some of the policies for which the Democratic president is responsible.

These two protests clearly display an unmistakable and unbridgeable difference in perspective-between support (including highly critical support), on the one side and active dissent and militant opposition on the other.

This distinction, which has immediate practical consequences for how, or whether, a protest movement will develop and flourish, admits of an explanation: in the opinion of many, much of the left leadership played a role in fomenting unrealistic expectations with respect to the Obama presidency.  Their investment in the Obama brand prevents them from endorsing and playing a role in organizing protests of sufficient vehemence and intensity as these would necessarily shine a light on their failure of judgment and lack of credibility.

Whatever the cause, the course of action is clear: the institutional left establishment must get off the fence and show which side they are on — critical support or active opposition.

If not, they will be, regrettably, but justly and inevitably swept aside by the currents of protest which must now come into being.

John Halle is a Professor at the Bard College Conservatory of Music and former Green Party Alderman from New Haven's Ninth Ward. Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

20 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on December 25th, 2010 at 6:42pm #

    We need to stop complaining and simply recognize corporate media complicity and censorship as the fact of life it is. And given this fact, we need to redirect our attention to monitoring those media outlets and individuals who claim to offer alternative to the corporate mainstream and give voice to the left, such as it is. John

    Hay main stream media whatever that is on Monday after California get’s some more rain and the East coast a small amount of snow don’t say a word about climate change just keep your head up in that dark place. Fox New’s come on tell people how cold it is and the snow what climate change go for it you know how dumb can you go. Oh there sure look’s to be more storms on the way the winter just started and this summer should not be boring. Then of course when congress get’s back come on boy’s and girl’s show everyone what you got. Remember keep your head up in that dark place by all means read the Constitution talk about the free market heck maybe you all got some new clothes for Christmas let’s see the fashion show oh and the EPA you know the new rules can’t wait to hear your thought’s on that one. Here’s an idea say it will hurt the American people I know right out of the old play book but use it anyway. Yes 2011 will be anything but boring then again now that you all are working together and in the center maybe it will be boring maybe a better word is mad you know in a mad world only the mad are sane ever hear that by Akira Kurosawa. Come on the greatest minds in human history I’ll bet there’s still room to go even further with the head up in that dark place why stop now?

  2. Deadbeat said on December 25th, 2010 at 7:59pm #

    Don Hawkins writes …

    We need to stop complaining and simply recognize corporate media complicity and censorship as the fact of life it is. And given this fact, we need to redirect our attention to monitoring those media outlets and individuals who claim to offer alternative to the corporate mainstream and give voice to the left, such as it is. John

    I think you missed the part of the authors comments where he criticizes the Left Media …

    Among these are why did left media outlets such as Common Dreams, Alternet, Counterpunch, Znet and others devote relatively little attention to the protest in the days leading up to it, even when it was already clear that it would be a major act of civil disobedience that needed, and deserved, to be reinforced by thousands of others? As for well known left writers such as Thomas Frank, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Katrina van den Heuvel why did they fail to write pieces in support of it, or even mention it, within the high profile platforms they have access to, thus getting the word out to many thousands some of whom were sure to have participated?

  3. Don Hawkins said on December 26th, 2010 at 4:02am #

    Great question DB maybe if the people who have the high platform get on TV and tell the truth anything approaching the truth you will never work in this town again comes to mind. It does seem these people play around the edges of reality yes reality is still here and granted somewhat covered over with illusion of knowledge and that’s giving them the benefit of the doubt. If what needs to be done could start most of these people with the high platform might say well that’s ok for the little people but not us we don’t wash dishes or change brakes on our car work in fields so any plan please let’s remember that and can someone please call my broker. Talk talk talk and when it comes to changes in the back of there mind again that’s for other people, humans, two legged bipeds such as ourselves in the American Dream. Congress will be back soon and dreamland starts again along with much talk about what they are dreaming and sometimes my laughter turns to amazement then back to laughter. Well who do you think you are to speak of the greatest minds in human history like that; a two legged bipeds with a little bit bigger brain that wonders how people can listen to 100% pure unadulterated BS and believe in such nonsense. But they seem so confident, well dressed, and oh my the things they talk of way over my little head. I think am starting to understand that Fox is the most powerful name in new’s and very soon will be the only new’s I watch and join the tea party buy Beck’s book’s read how to buy friends and have influence over people again maybe Atlas Shrugged wear a suit and tie and move to Canada and see if I can find Randy. Maybe just a cup of coffee this morning DB.

  4. Don Hawkins said on December 26th, 2010 at 4:38am #

    Remember the movie Independence Day where the Countries of the Earth were working together to fight a force much bigger than just one Country, bigger than confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, bigger than cowards and destroyer of civilizations, bigger than every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader and at the end of the movie Randy was headed up into the ship and say’s, “Am Back”, always’ liked that part and remember the playing around the edges of reality on the third planet from the Sun.

  5. mary said on December 26th, 2010 at 4:45am #

    Best to switch off that box in the corner Don or get rid completely. When did you ever hear a truth coming out of the speakers or see one on the screen?

  6. Don Hawkins said on December 26th, 2010 at 4:58am #

    Once in a great great great while then you never see that person again I mean what do they do send them to a camp or something maybe in Canada.

  7. bozh said on December 26th, 2010 at 9:14am #

    yes, don,
    reality is there! alas, also fancy! and fancy or fantacy, nevertheless, parts of reality.
    no, this does not mean that we killing ‘alien’ children is ONLY a phantacy or fancy; it seems, it’s real!
    no u don’t want a taste of that! it is real! it’s a game with rules not known to anyone, except to few generals, lady gaga, clooney, and the like?

    one of the rules among the unknown rules, is a rule that u can change any rule w.o. pre- or after-thought, reason or rhyme, and the like!

    but killing children is not the only game w.o. rules. banking, economy, making laws or love we may also call games! with rules or not? ok! with rules?!
    but to understand even one u still need a lawyer, priest, ‘educator’, anchor person, politoco, et al!

    so no rule-law is a rule-law unless above salts i listed say so.

    and then, there r rules that r composed especially for miners, fishers, tillers, and housepeople.
    my wife also makes rules especially for me! and u guessed it! one of those rules is…..? tnx

  8. Don Hawkins said on December 26th, 2010 at 11:16am #


    In other words, emission reduction promised by the industrialised world is pathetic. And the principle of equity in burden-sharing has been completely done away with.
    And let us be clear: Cancun makes no pretence that global equity is a principle that is best thrashed in the world’s dustbins. Just consider. All previous drafts of this agreement stated that developing countries would have equitable access to the global carbon budget. But this has been crucially diluted in the Cancun agreement. Now it reads in a fuzzy and meaningless way that there will be “equitable access to sustainable development”. In other words, we have bartered away the need to apportion the global atmospheric space based on our right to development.
    But even this is not the worst. Let us for a moment say that we in India should be willing to pay this price for the global common good. But then the deal should be effective in its target to cut emissions. Instead, the pledges will add up to practically nothing in terms of averting the worst of climate change.
    The calculation is that with the Cancun deal in force, the world is on a 3-4º C temperature increase. We know that we are most vulnerable to climate change. We know that already when world average temperatures have increased by just 0.8º C, our monsoons are showing signs of extreme variability — more rain in less rainy days — leading to floods and droughts. Then how can a weak and ineffective deal on climate change be good for us?
    But the spin doctors want us to believe differently. This is understandable. Cancun is a deal, which protects the interests of the rich polluters. It is their prize.
    But the question is what has the poor developing world got in return? There is no commitment to cut emissions, needed to avert climate change. No money is promised as well. The agreement provides for the creation of a green fund and repeats the decision to give $30 billion as fast-track funding by 2012 and $100 billion by 2020. But this is fictional money to cajole and bribe. The fact is that the rich world is saying openly that it cannot pay because of its recession. It now wants the developing world to look for these funds in the private sector. Nothing real is on the table.
    The technology deal is even weaker. It only says that it will set up a technology centre. The tricky issue of preferential access to IPR over low-carbon technologies, which was being demanded by the developing world, has been skipped altogether.
    The fact is that we hate being hated in the rich man’s world. Cancun is about our need to be deal-makers on their behalf — even if it costs us the earth. Business

    In the rich man’s world even if it costs us the earth. EVEN IF IT COSTS US THE EARTH!

  9. bozh said on December 26th, 2010 at 12:06pm #

    i have good news for me! and maybe me only?

    here it is, and in ten words or less: i won’t be the first or last person to die. [ten words, this time]
    isn’t that good news? that obama and bush will die! now, that’s very democratic!
    so cheer up! tnx

  10. Don Hawkins said on December 26th, 2010 at 12:51pm #

    The rich man’s World interesting concept is America a rich man’s world or is America thought of as a whole a rich man’s world. Just on the off chance sitting in front of a camp fire after a day of looking for food and water a rich man’s world or working at a fast food place or an office in front of a computer? I’ll bet the fool on the hill know’s. Again just on the off chance and costing us the planet we live on well my first choice for preacher man would be Glenn Beck leader maybe Mitch McConnell or people of like thinking and maybe as I worked in the field at one end would be a picture of both those people or like thinkers with just dear leaders on the bottom and the more local leaders for the field in smaller pictures of course off to one side maybe with just Big Boss on the bottom. Maybe a little rewrite of 1984 with known knowledge.

    Some opening words from 1984, Orwell

    Behind Winston’s back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away
    about pig-iron and the overfulfilment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The
    telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston
    made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it,
    moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal
    plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course
    no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How
    often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual
    wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all
    the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted
    to. You had to live–did live, from habit that became instinct–in the
    assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in
    darkness, every movement scrutinized. Orwell

    Ok heck let’s go with it.

    The television was still talking about oil and the underfulfilment of the twenty three plan. The
    television received and transmitted simultaneously the law, oh dear. The State who or what that was still unknown plugged in on any individual with a relentless stream of messages to get us all to do one think shop, consume. You had to live–did live, from habit that became instinct–in the
    assumption that every thought you had was controlled. Some fought this at first and nobody really sure but some word camp’s in Canada for retraining.

    And Orwell’s words again;

    He tried to squeeze out some childhood memory that should tell him
    whether London had always been quite like this. Were there always these
    vistas of rotting nineteenth-century houses, their sides shored up with
    baulks of timber, their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs
    with corrugated iron, their crazy garden walls sagging in all directions?
    And the bombed sites where the plaster dust swirled in the air and the
    willow-herb straggled over the heaps of rubble; and the places where the
    bombs had cleared a larger patch and there had sprung up sordid colonies
    of wooden dwellings like chicken-houses? But it was no use, he could not

    Too remember when we had eye’s and ear’s

  11. Don Hawkins said on December 26th, 2010 at 1:11pm #

    A rewrite of the rewrite saves on paper instead of dear leader below the so called leaders maybe a big dollar sign and below it Wall Street loves you very very much. I know needs work and or a new way of thinking.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 27th, 2010 at 2:43pm #

    Don, our fate is already sealed. Just as people began talking of ‘tipping-points’ and realists of ‘points of no return’ just a few years ago, it was plain to those with brains sufficient to the task and not mentally impaired by brainwashing, that these sign-posts on the road to disaster were already disappearing in the rear-vision media. The loss of the Arctic summer sea ice, the amplification of warming in the Hyperborean North, and the venting of frozen methane are bad enough, but the recent accelerating of melting on the Antarctic Peninsula, and on the Antarctic mainland, the loss of montane glaciers, including in Tibet. the precipitous fall in phytoplankton populations, the increase in atmospheric water vapour, the increasingly apocalyptic deluges (which the local meteorological propagandists, no doubt under orders, put down entirely to the current La Nina, mention of climate disruption having been banned from public discourse, another symptom of mob rule by deranged morons)etc, etc are all synergistic, all first-class catastrophes. Let us not even mention ocean acidification and the spread of oceanic anoxic ‘dead-zones’ both unimaginably horrific in their global implications.
    Yet despite this all the media remains a sewer of denialism of every problem, the comments blogs are totally dominated by ranting imbeciles and politicians do nothing but serve the money power, which means the fossil fuel industry. In this misbegotten country, every ‘Green’ initiative has been a fiasco, rapidly dropped. Billions are being wasted on CO2 capture and storage, so as to protect the coal industry. The Leader of the Opposition, Abbott, has described anthropogenic climate change as ‘crap’, an indication of his intellectual attainment. This year appears to have seen the beginning of the unprecedented climate disruption that I heard James Lovelock once predict would end in a new steady-state at a higher global average temperature. However as it seems that the global ruling class is intent on business as usual, we must be looking at at least 550 ppm of CO2, and Gods knows how many of CO2 equivalents, particularly if the frozen methane gets loose. And that’s our end. Surely politicians must be getting the truth from their scientific establishments, so what are they doing? Why have no prominent politicians or leading scientists resigned in outrage at the deliberate policy that will lead to mass death?

  13. Don Hawkins said on December 27th, 2010 at 2:54pm #

    Ever hear of Socialism for the wealthy? Can you please spell institutionalized. I-N-S-T-I-T-U-T-I-O-N-A-L-I-Z-E-D, institutionalized, that’s correct and you are the winner of the 2010 spelling bee and here to give you the prize direct from corporate headquarters and a proud member of the Business Round Table along with the Senator from the great State of Kentucky my friend and your friend a great American Rupert Murdoch, (The Penguin). Welfare from the many sort of let’s just say look’s good on paper.

  14. Don Hawkins said on December 27th, 2010 at 3:34pm #

    I think Mulga we are about to find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Look’s like what they can get away with and still stay in power while keeping us in the dark Cap and trade maybe as it will make people think we are doing something when in reality just another joke on the human race. The science will it just stop will we still be able to find the truth if we look? So far what needs to be done is still at about zero and we go shopping.

  15. Olive Farmer said on December 27th, 2010 at 10:24pm #

    Johnny can and will protest.
    Lost in the detail of issues, in the blizzard of information, disinformation and the welter of bad news is the Grand Plan.
    The Grand Plan is to stir the populations of the western nations into revolution from which will emerge new political forces. These new extremist political movements will divide the populations and provoke civil disturbances on a grand scale.
    The ensuing misery will open the door for “The Christ”……
    If you think this sounds crazy, visit the website of the United Nations ratified Lucis Trust (derived from Lucifer Publishing) and then the website of Share International, their offshoot, crammed full of UN dignitaries and world statespeople sharing in the anticipation of the coming of the christ.
    Or go here to read more http://olivefarmercrete.blogspot.com

  16. Don Hawkins said on December 28th, 2010 at 5:02am #

    Last night on Fox New’s they really did it this time and the head up in that dark place. The Hannity show and the guest host was Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson formally of MSNBC and Christopher C. Horner a Senior Fellow at CEI. As an attorney in Washington, DC Horner has represented CEI as well as scientists and Members of the U.S. House and Senate on matters of environmental policy in the federal courts including the Supreme Court. Then the last guest was a lady and am surprised they put her on as she broke a big golden rule told the truth. The talk started with an article in the New York Times on why a warming Earth is causing the weather we now see Worldwide this winter that started a tad bit early. The two punk’s Carlson and Horner I know punk is a strong word and yes to really describe those two should have used a stronger word but punk’s work’s. Carlson said it’s snowing and cold not much else rather a basic thinker I guess then the lady who was very clear in her thinking little fact’s like melting ice warmer oceans weather pattern changes then she said just two words, James Hansen, oh my god Carlson and Horner both turned another shade of white and Carlson started speed talking as he cut off the lady then Horner did a little lawyer talk ever watch c-span and the Senate and started to talk about spaceship’s and people from other World’s and I wonder if he uses that kind of crazy talk in front of the Supreme Court probably as they all seem to speak the same language forked tongue been around along time. The lady tryed to tell the truth and yes kept getting cut off now the other new’s we see from the MSM in some way’s could be worst as they just stay silent ignorance is strength. Well let’s see what the fair and balanced channel has in mind for our minds today maybe more talk of war and North Korea probably death panels and Obamacare maybe a retired general or two and make believe thinker’s on a whole range of subject’s am sure. Well am going to turn on one of the financial channels now and see how World market’s are doing this day and yes I know well dressed fool’s/punk’s and you know when there not telling the truth, lying as there lip’s are moving. Maybe we will hear about an enormous effect a few small changes to the economic doctrines of the twenty first Century reason, imagination, working together, knowledge the real thing not illusion/lawyer talk. Either way it look’s like we are about to find out the road life on Earth will take. That’s life on Earth Horner, James Hansen that’s James Hansen that’s spelled James Hansen and there’s a few more James Hansen’s on the way punk.

  17. Don Hawkins said on December 28th, 2010 at 7:09am #

    “The shrinking of arable land and the massive land degradation threatens the ability of the country to maintain current levels of agricultural production, while the widening gap between rural and urban is an important challenge to the right to food of the Chinese population,” said De Schutter at the end of a trip to China.

    He told the Guardian his main concern was the decline of soil quality in China because of excessive use of fertilisers, pollution and drought. He noted that 37% of the nation’s territory was degraded and 8.2m hectares (20.7m acres) of arable land has been lost since 1997 to cities, industrial parks, natural disasters and forestry programmes.

    With climate change expected to increase price volatility and cut agricultural productivity by 5% to 10% by 2030, De Schutter said it was essential for China to wean itself off fossil-fuel intensive farming and adopt more sustainable agricultural techniques, including organic production, and to make even better use of its two great strengths: a huge strategic grain reserve and a large rural population. Guardian

    5 to 10% by 2030?
    Remember when the IPCC report came out a few years ago and now with what we see with our eye’s just might have to change a few projections kind of like that 5 to 10% by 2030 were we not told this would start to happen wait don’t tell me millions maybe a few more off to the happy hunting ground problem solved not a very good plan and will not work anyway and I wonder does anybody think this way say over at the fair and balanced channel well golly gee how about the people who grown crop’s like my son or his son not real people are they; to me they are, shocking yes to say the least.

  18. mary said on December 28th, 2010 at 7:23am #

    I think you’ll find this is yet more demonisation of China. De Schutter is a UN rapporteur and we know where the UN is coming from. The West has done so well hasn’t it on protecting the environment and saving the planet? Content too to have the Chinese manufacturing and supplying all its consumer goods.

    De Schutter has another go here.

  19. bozh said on December 28th, 2010 at 9:22am #

    going now from memory, ?every time a contributor mentions china, s/he brings us some negativity about it.

    chinese know what’s it like to fight invaders with bows and arrows or just rifles such as ‘jewish’, nato invaders in palestina, iraq, afpak, korea, vietnam, lebanon, egypt ’56.

    china, like russia, wld never have to have industrialized, had the west been friendly and nonaggressive.

    but with monsters such as nato lands around, what cld SU and china do but make arms fro self-protection? and, yes, pollute and destroy soil! tnx

  20. Don Hawkins said on December 28th, 2010 at 12:06pm #

    Regardless of the many complexities of why this is happening in China food is a problem and next water. Middle East water first and here in the States a bit slower not much especially when on time delivery is not on time. Granted the U.S. is going shopping and little else. Anybody notice the price of oil well let’s get the economy smokin again another party and see how well that work’s. Coal the wisdom of coal. Did anybody notice the talk about the canceled football game this too shall pass.