by Mary Lyon
The last few days offer a lesson in contrast in how dissenters in this country can expect to be treated. The evidence appears at opposite ends of a spectrum - both undesirable extremes. It looks as though, if you want to raise your voice against the establishment, you'll either be completely ignored, or severely shocked, several times, with taser guns. Perhaps this is the only kind of choice issue that the establishment supports.
Over the weekend, numerous large-scale events were held all over the country, from the thousands who formed the word "IMPEACH" on the beach near San Francisco to the tens of thousands who marched in Washington D.C. And my-oh-my what coverage! All over everywhere - NOT. I saw precisely NOTHING on CNN, and MSNBC, with the standard slant you'd expect from Pox Noise, overinflating the underwhelming numbers of pro-war protesters and low-balling the size of the anti-war crowds. I was struck by the way the large demonstrations were placed on "ignore" by the networks. The coverage I did see, I had to seek out on the internet, where there were scores of photos taken by multiple participants. There were many wide shots that showed the proverbial sea of humanity fading far back into the distance. Wherever it was, they filled the place. How could this be overlooked? Well, okay, O.J. But in the rare interruptions of the wall-to-wall coverage from Las Vegas, news outlets did discuss Britney Spears, Alan Greenspan, and Kerry-versus-McCain on "Meet the Press," with a tap or two of a Larry Craig update on the side. SOMEWHERE in there, there HAD to be at least a mention of the protests. There were events staged coast-to-coast, some of them huge. I looked in on the various channels, off and on, throughout the weekend, and saw none. Except for the numbers game briefly played on Pox.
Compare that to the over-the-top treatment that Andrew Meyer received at the hands of the campus police at the University of Florida during a Q&A session with Senator John Kerry. Watching the dreaded citizen-video of the incident sucked me back in time to the suppression of protesters during the Vietnam War. It wasn't hard to make the short leap to memories of Kent State. True, Meyer pushed it verbally, shameless provocateur that he apparently is. My husband, who back in the day saw his share of police brutality, said the guy should have complied immediately. Fair enough. But dammit, the police still WAY overreacted, in my view. Besides, the guy had questions that I thought were fair. And at least a couple of those questions continue to bedevil many millions of us who share Meyer's intense frustration over the turn this country's taken. Those are big questions - about why the IMPEACHMENT of Bush and Cheney (or maybe AT LEAST of Cheney himself) is not going forward, and why Kerry didn't pursue widely-suspected (and since verified in the minds of many) election fraud in Ohio. Those are urgent and legitimate questions that have not received any sort of decent or acceptable answer yet. It was evident that Meyer felt this way, which would explain why he grew agitated in his demands for an answer. Perhaps Meyer got a little too in-yer-face. But those same questions still bother a LOT of ws - a LOT. If I had a chance to ask someone like John Kerry a question, I'd push that same overriding two myself, and with a fair amount of gusto, I might add - although I'm not sure I'd stage a public spectacle like Meyer did. That those questions hang in the air, as ignored and unaired as the weekend protests, is indeed the kind of thing likely to make one's blood pressure rise.
Even as I write this, the Andrew Meyer treatment is being replayed on TV. "Don't tase me, bro!" he screams while writhing under the effects of 15-thousand volts of agony. There's plenty of next-day coverage about this. It feels as though they're playing this more than they're rerunning the audio Swiss cheese of the O.J. explosion at the Las Vegas casino hotel. Still nothing on the Monday after the weekend's protests makes air. Maybe we're on such outrage overload that it takes taser strikes on a single unruly student to jolt us into sitting up and paying attention.
Or perhaps it's just the latest reminder of how freedom of speech is still suppressed in this country. The media wouldn't touch the protests all weekend - even when multitudes descended on the nation's Capitol. Maybe their sheer numbers would make them more easily heard, they thought. Fat chance. Many members of this crowd also agreed with, supported or even contributed to the MoveOn.org ad that asked if George Bush's latest Iraq war cheerleader, General Petraeus, would "betray us." Another question worth asking, in light of years' worth of fact-challenged assertions from this administration that lots of peachy keen progress was being made all the time. That single ad in the New York Times brought armies of harrumphing conservatives and tsk-tsk'ing pundits to pick a fight with a rather pointed pun and try to shout its message down. That is, after all, one recommended tactic listed in the "Presidential Advance Manual," a crowd-management bible for thwarting protesters at GOP events. We saw dissent-suppression application at the David Petraeus hearings in the House of Representatives, when members of Code Pink and Gold Star Mother Cindy Sheehan were arrested and wrestled out of the room. Another activist, muscled out of the room, suffered broken bones. We even saw a TV mom, Sally Field, discover that speaking out against the war on this year's Emmys proves that the TV Academy voters may like her, they really like her, but the politically-restrictive censors do not. Curiously, the Emmy telecast was on Fox. So much for all those fine principles of freedom - led by the Freedom of Speech - for which more than 37-hundred of our soldiers have presumably died in Iraq. People who speak uncomfortable truths are still the most widely reviled segments of the population. From the Dixie Chicks to those forced into "First Amendment Zones" blocks away from a Bush stump speech, we've seen this in the growth of the present protest movement. In some respects, it feels almost as though we're witnessing a reincarnation of the rage against the machine during the Vietnam era. Instead of shooting students with bullets from National Guard riflemen, a police pack now zaps 'em with taser guns. Instead of allowing demonstrators and objectors to voice their views, they're bleeped off the TV or ignored completely.
What's most galling to me is how we who object are now herded into a corner of cold comforts. This weekend, while CNN and other media outlets kept their backs turned, the story got out mainly because participants took matters into their own hands, creating a People's Coverage with their own eyewitness accounts and digital photography uploaded on the Internet. At least we can do that, now. And the students shot at Kent State didn't get up again. Ever. At least Andrew Meyer eventually could. Still, awfully cold comforts. Crumbs from the table. And shockingly so.
And then go DO something about it.