I’m walking in the Rattray Marsh near my home in suburban Toronto, as I do every day, trying not to think about the news from south of the border. All bad. All the time. All-consuming. Summer bird songs fail to pause the last song I heard in the car, still playing in my head.
There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware.
Buffalo Springfield. Steven Stills, Neil Young and a couple of other guys. For What It’s Worth (1966). Stills’ lyrics always give me flashbacks of antiwar protests in the streets of Washington, Chicago, New York.
There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds.
Getting so much resistance from behind.
I follow a wide path, trees close on both sides, head on a swivel like a soldier on patrol, looking for deer and other critters that often make an appearance and add a satisfying moment to the evening.
Run into the guy l think of as the Marsh Maven. He’s a retired firefighter/paramedic who once told me he drove through the night on 9/11 to my hometown and spent weeks in the ruins at Ground Zero.
Now he takes pictures of birds, animals, sunsets.
“Seen anything?” the Maven greets me.
“Nah,” I say, “just taking a walk – an old man alone with his thoughts.”
What a field-day for the heat.
A thousand people in the street.
Singing songs and carrying signs.
Mostly say, hooray for our side.
Heading back to the car. Thinking about the border. Not the one I have to cross to visit my country. The one with refugees crammed into cages or pens or camps or whatever the hell you want to call them.
Thinking about my fellow Americans, apparently helpless to stop the madness, and the times I’ve engaged with some of them online, where they pour out their anger, anguish, frustration. #TheResistance.
Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid.
You step out of line, the man come – and take you away.
* * *
Keith Olbermann, 60, is the ESPN broadcaster turned MSNBC political commentator turned … I don’t know what he’s doing now.
But, in September 2016, two months before the presidential election, he began posting a series of videos he called The Resistance.
There would be 187 episodes of Olbermann railing against Trump. The last, on November 27, 2017, began:
“I’m confident now, even more so than I have been throughout the last year, that this nightmare presidency of Donald John Trump will end prematurely and end soon.
“And I am thus also confident that this is the correct moment to end this series of commentaries.”
* * *
Walter Shaub, 48, was appointed by President Obama in January 2013 to a five-year term as director of the Office of Government Ethics. He quit six months into the Trump administration because the racketeers and grifters who run the government consider ethics a character flaw.
After he left office, I saw Shaub on CNN a few times. He seemed like a nice, smart man who believed politicians and government officials should do the right thing.
More recently, when I turned to Twitter during a prolonged bout of writer’s block, I gravitated to Shaub’s thoughtful and passionate participation online.
In June, as the news was again filled with images of desperate and maltreated refugees huddled in detention, Shaub tweeted:
Is it time for a massive protest against these camps? If so, maybe the groups capable of organizing one need to know enough of us would show …
YES = you would *definitely* show up
NO = you probably wouldn’t show up
He reported more than 67,000 responses, 93 percent saying YES.
I must have missed the news of tens of thousands protesting.
Still, Shaub and his #Resistance supporters keep bitching and moaning – sustenance for social media enthusiasts – about the absence of demonstrations.
I tried to be helpful:
Need people who know how to organize a mass protest. Singular. Hundreds of thousands in one place with the cameras rolling.
Someone with the handle Secret Agent Number Six, with 94,200 followers, asked:
What happened to all of the hippie protesters? We need them now. If they were still around they would be all over the place protesting every day.
Hoffman and Rubin dead. Rest of us fucking old. Need a new generation to get off its ass/screens. Had hope the Parkland kids would keep it up but …
* * *
After my walk in the marsh, I cracked open my old paperback copy of The Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer-winning account of the 1967 march on the Pentagon.
The antiwar movement was changing its tactics under the banner: From dissent to resistance. No more solemn processions for peace. Time for defiance, confrontation and combat.
Active civil disobedience was therefore essential to give glamour and publicity to the demonstration – a page-one story for Washington must instead become a page-one story for the world. Then, the ante would be up, and the results unpredictable – the peace movement would seem far from subsiding into the tapestry.
– The Armies of the Night
Joining the assault on the Pentagon were Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, the young freak-power provocateurs of the movement.
“We will fuck on the grass and beat ourselves against the doors,” Hoffman promised. “We shall raise the flag of nothingness over the Pentagon and a mighty cheer of liberation will echo through the land.”
Some 50,000 marched to the front door of the Defense Department. Nearly 700 were arrested clashing with cops and soldiers while trying to storm the building.
No flag of victory was raised above the Pentagon – though there was surely some pre-skirmish fucking in the grass – but the scene was splashed on front pages and TV screens everywhere, and the movement would be big news every time it took to the streets after that late October weekend.
* * *
“Trump is not going to leave … The only way that we’re going to stop this is eventually we’re all going to have to put our bodies on the line.”
– Filmmaker Michael Moore, June 2018
* * *
At the time of the march on the Pentagon, I was just shy of my 21st birthday and working as a copyboy at the New York Times. I felt a kinship with the mainly young protesters, though I never participated.
Maybe it was because I didn’t have as much at stake, having ducked the draft with a medical deferment. Or maybe because I was focused on jump-starting a career as a journalist, where I would always be an observer, on the sidelines.
By the summer of 1968, I was a reporter with a newspaper in northern California. I watched on television as the demonstrators outside the Democratic convention stole the show, with the help of rampaging Chicago cops.
A year and a half later, I was a reporter for UPI in New York when national guardsmen in Ohio opened fire on antiwar demonstrators at Kent State University, killing four, including a kid who went to my high school.
The protests only heated up. Over the next couple of years, I covered many of the marches, usually on a Saturday on Fifth Avenue, always thousands in the streets.
* * *
A few weeks ago there was a cry for help on Twitter from someone named Sarah in California:
Resistance Family: Is anyone else losing hope? … Concentration camps. People dying. Babies dying …
Maybe if people took the streets – followed the recent example of Hong Kong if not the American antiwar movement – people might get the message that there is a true national emergency. #Resistance should be action.
To which someone named Alice replied:
There are rallies and marches scheduled almost every weekend. Where the hell are all the people who keep saying we need to take to the street? There were impeachment rallies all over the country last Saturday. Did you go to one?
To which I replied: Didn’t see this on the national news.
To which Alice replied: No, news doesn’t cover that stuff. They prefer we not know … NYC’s impeachment event was pretty big; it was livestreamed.
* * *
The day after Trump was inaugurated there was the Women’s March. It would be more than a year, after the Parkland high school shooting, that tens of thousands again converged on Washington in protest.
Since then …
A protest movement which does not grow loses power every day, since protest movements depend upon the interest they arouse in the mass media.
– The Armies of the Night
When the president announced he was going to Orlando for one of his Nuremberg-style rallies to kick off his 2020 campaign last month, I spotted a notice for an anti-Trump demonstration nearby.
Turned out the venue was gay bar a half-mile away. A small crowd gathered outside with handmade signs and a big orange balloon.
On the TV news that night, I did not see any coverage – except for a conga-line of Nazis who call themselves Proud Boys taunting the protesters, while en route to the Trump rally.
We better stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
It’s late. I’m sitting in my home office, 450 miles from Trump Tower, which did not exist when I covered my last march on Fifth Avenue.
There is no comparison between the atrocity of the Vietnam War and the atrocity of Trump’s America.
Yet, this feels worse.
Maybe because I’m old now.
Or maybe because nobody is fighting back.
My book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.