My First (but not last) Protest

There’s an Iraq War protest this Saturday in downtown Hollywood, the closest Los Angeles can come to a center, where the deceptively dreamy, gaudy-renovated Boulevard and slandered liberals come together under one cloud of delusion, commemorating the second anniversary of the 2003 Iraq War protest.

The news comes to me as a sobering slap in the face reminder that it’s been two years since Bush set his lies on fire in the name of nonexistent WMDs and terrorist network ties. We knew it back then and we still know, and the slap hurts even more now because it’s 2005. At least in 2003 we had November 2004 to hope, and even the most cynical of us could be optimistic.

But enough pessimism, cynicism, anger. Deep down, I know a protest is therapeutic for a time like now, a mere three months into Bush’s second term, with no light and a narrow tunnel. But rather than memorializing the 2003 protest, the 2005 protest will regroup the collective left consciousness, not under a cloud of delusion but way over the mess of deception.

I was there in 2003 because that’s where I used to live, tucked inside the Sunset and LaBrea strip mall, In-N-Out parking lot in my backyard, souped bass tickling my eardrums from the drive-thru, the scent of fast food over-consumption lodged in the astro-turf hallway carpet, drug dealers/addicts patrolling the Hollywood High School Sheiks while oblivious cop cars lined up perpendicular, waiting for the daily tourist convention up the street.

On the Saturday afternoon of the protest it was a sunny, fairly warm day, but the air was heavy with expectation, chaos, and a impending clash with protest, as in the verb, to protest. Anyone who knows me well can attest that I have immense respect and admiration for protests, progressive revolutions, sit-ins, strikes, The Grapes of Wrath, or any manifestation of little people coming together to sock it to the Man.

With that said, up until that Saturday, I had avoided participating in such behavior altogether. Sometimes I’d play the, “I’ll stay home and let others walk down the street and sing, ‘Give Peace a Chance’” laziness card, but I think the real reason I don’t do protests is because it involves direct action, putting yourself out there with no cover. I tend to hide behind the curtain, taking notes deviously on the side, even though I may be just as passionate about the protest as the protesters.

In addition to my general aversion to protest, on that hazy March afternoon I felt like a hypocrite, or at least a torn half-truth among the full blue-blooded greenery. They probably all worked for non-profits, with stints in the Peace Corps on Sundays and Sierra Club hemp-themed tie-dye T-shirt-making parties that save the forests all night, every night. Here I was, chained to a desk sixty hours a week, setting up dealmaking schemes for terrible TV movies, wearing skirts, cardigans, heels and a permanent frown, turning into an alcoholic trying desperately to “network” my next step up in the industry.

Knowing that I had given my young self to a game I didn’t really plan on winning, I was starting to feel truly jaded. The crisis of conscience was creeping in, my socialism-toned textual studies classes haunting my political beliefs further to the left. I believe that “fuck it” crossed my mind as I walked down the street and marched that afternoon, protesting the War in Iraq because it was/is wrong.

Not surprisingly, for the first couple blocks I was frustrated and uncomfortable because, for some reason, I didn’t feel like I was a part of anything. These people are my allies, I thought to myself. They apparently feel the same way I do about this situation, so why don’t I feel any connection? My friend and I were talking about Bush and Iraq, but we sounded hollow and forced, like a couple of broken records dubbing the latest LA Times story on a history survey course final.

But while I felt numb, everyone around me was teaming with passion. I hoped it was contagious, feeding my perception with something, anything that would spark. As I moved forward, I looked around, took in the sights, read the signs, T-shirts, buttons, costumes, collected brochures, overheard heated conversations, felt smoke coming out of ears, music spilling out of boom boxes, fiery prose electrifying anyone who could catch the words before they absorbed in the giant moving mass.

It was only after I made smiling eye contact with my jaded lefty reflection on the other side of Highland that I forgot who I was supposed to be on Monday morning. Maybe I had avoided the act of protest for so long because, from high school to college to 23-year-old working stiff, my life had become increasingly more absorbed, not in a giant moving mass, but in itself. But protest has no room for the false pretense of the individual. The point is to put your self aside and just be. A protest is way bigger than you. Not only that, you’re practically nonexistent. As simple and textbook as it seems, it is the hardest thing for any member of such a consumer-driven society as ours to just give it up. But we have to, see? Or else Bush wins. And when Bush wins, the Man wins.

Regardless of what I learned that day, it remains the only time I’ve ever joined a protest. I thought it would be the last time, but now I’m not so sure. Saturday’s impulse may have me back in Hollywood, not really participating but skating the outskirts, out-misfitting the leftist misfits by getting inside their heads, writing it all down, attempting to create a direct reaction to the action. We all have our ways of protest. The only way I can really let go and lose myself in the cause is when I focus on what’s going on outside my head, where I can feel closest to the ghost of good old Tom Joad.


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