The Value of 'Peaceful Protest'...

Copyright 1985, 1986 by Gregory S. Swann. All Rights Reserved.
Direct inquiries to CIS I.D. 75115,1341.

The Value of 'Peaceful Protest'...

        "Affordable Housing Is A Human Right!" The poster shouted at
me in ten inch block letters. I was duly intimidated. Another
bellowed, "Death To All Rent Pirates!"
        Do you see why I veer away from City Hall? I had an hour free
and I thought to spend it in the sylvan sunshine of City Hall Park.
Instead, I got caught up in a 'peaceful' rent control protest.
        "One, two, three, four! We won't take it anymore!" The
marchers were chanting--some were screaming--as they tramped through
the park. Back home we used to call this disturbing the peace; it was
worth ten dollars or ten days. In New York it's called 'outreach';
it's worth a column and a half plus a photo.
        "Five, six, seven, eight! New York tenants cannot wait!"
What's more peaceful than 'peaceful protest'? Most of the people who
had been relaxing in the park collected their things and left. The
winos were left to appreciate the 'non-violent' nature of the
protesters in virtual solitude.
        Over near Broadway, a woman began to make blowing noises into
a megaphone. Thankfully, the chanting sign-brandishers drifted over
toward her.
        She was the sort of woman for whom the epithet 'dumpy' is a
compliment. She looked like one of those 'sculptures' you see in Soho,
or maybe the remains of a flood in the flour warehouse. She was
bulging out of a sweatsuit, and she reminded me of Bella Abzug, not so
much in facial features, but in the belligerent indifference of her
posture and in the adamant refusal of her body to conform to any sort
of intelligible shape. She bellowed at the milling crowd: "Test! Test!
Test! Can you hear me?!"
        "Yes!!," they roared back. They could have heard her without
the megaphone. From Midtown. Maybe even Yonkers.
        Bella looked pleased. She hollered, "Are you mad!?!"
        "Yes!!," roared the crowd.
        "Are you riled up!?!"
        "Are you ready to =fight= for your rights!?!" Bella pounded on
an invisible lectern.
        "Are you ready to =fight= the festering lice who bleed you!?!
Who gouge you of your last cent, then dump you out on the street when
you can't pay!?!"
        "YES!!!" The roar was deafening. The crowd was composed of two
types of people. Half were those decent-shabby young people who are
more than happy to be 'radical' so long as stuffy old Daddy keeps
sending the checks. The other half were the sort of shabby-shabby poor
people who always manage to have time available for 'peaceful
protest'. I'd have been surprised to learn that as many as ten percent
actually paid their own rent out of their own earnings; people who
earn a living don't have a lot of time free for protest, 'peaceful' or
        Bella bellowed, "Are you ready to =fight= the parasites who
want to do away with rent control!?!"
        "YES!!" The protesters raised their signs high. Some began to
stomp their feet. A confused-looking young woman sounded a tatoo on a
tambourine. The chanting was resumed as an undercurrent to Bella's
        There was (much) more, but you've heard it all before. The
next speaker was an earnest young man in paint-spattered dungarees.
Call him the Bawler, because he looked as if he were about to burst
into tears. "I speak for the Homeless," he whined.
        "Aww..." The crowd joined him in thirty seconds of mass pity.

        "There are hungry people in New York," he bawled. "There are
people wo haven't got a bed to sleep in. Who haven't got a place to
cook or to take a bath."
        "Aww..." A gangly woman in denim overalls wiped tears from her
        "How can we live with ouselves," the Bawler wept, "knowing
that somewhere a Homeless person is sleeping over a sewer grating with
newspapers for blankets?"
        "Aww..." Evidently the tears were contagious.
        He gestured toward the breathtaking Battery skyline. "In the
shadow of these skyscrapers, can we permit one person to go without a
decent home?"
        "No!" The roar was muffled by throats blocked from weeping.
        "Just so some suburban baron of profit can buy a new
        The Bawler's speech was delayed by his own tears. He took
control of himself. "Should we have to care about =their= profits when
people are Homeless? =Home=less?!?"
        "NO!!" The mob was regaining some of Bella's supercharged
        "No," the Bawler said. "We =do not= have to care about =their=
profits!" The crowd roared. "The Homeless demand housing, and they
demand it =NOW=!"
        The crowd went wild. The chanting and stomping resumed in
earnest. Ms. Tambourine Woman stepped up her cadence. Some of the sign
brandishers seemed to want to remove the cardboard that concealed the
clubs underneath.
        The third speaker was obviously a lawyer. Three-piece blue
suit, gold chain across the waist-coat with a fair imitation of a Phi
Beta Kappa key, modish wire-frame glasses. His thick black hair was
pulled back in a bouffant wave. In another age, he might have chased
ambulances or scanned the obits for probate cases. But not anymore...

        He shouted at the crowd, "Do you want rent justice?!"
        "Do you want decent housing at a fair price?!"
        "Do you want to know that you =can't= be evicted?!"
        "That you won't be forced to pay outrageous rent increases?!"

        "That your home is your castle, not your landlord's?!"
        "YES!!" The stompers pounded away with vigor. Pity all that
energy wasn't going toward something productive...
        "Well then..." The Shyster swept back his black curls. "What
are you going to do!?!"
        "KILL!!" Only a few people said that, but they were loud.
        "No," he chuckled. "You're not going to kill. You're going to
        "YES!!" The whole crowd joined in the clamor.
        "=Sue= your landlord for rent reduction!!"
        "=Sue= your landlord when he tries to evict you!!"
        "=Sue= your landlord for tenant's rights!!"
        "YES!!" The tambourinist had lost all sense of rhythm; she was
banging away with abandon. The stompers were threatening to break
through to the subway below.
        The Shyster smiled. "My firm is prepared to handle your case
=at once=!!"
        "Yes!!" The attitude of the crowd had somehow drifted from the
conceptual to the liturgical. It's not all that common to see people
cheering for advertising.
        "We'll help you get housing justice at reasonable fees!!"
        "Major credit cards accepted!!"
        The marching resumed. The Shyster pulled a thick stack of
business cards out of his vest pocket. He began to distribute them
among the crowd. A lot of people took them. The Shyster looked pleased
with himself. After all, what's the use of 'peaceful protest' if an
'idealist' can't make a buck on it?

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