Stewart Turns ‘em Out, But Can’t Turn It Up

Ladies and gentlemen, the numbers are in and it’s official: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert outdid Glenn Beck nearly three times over.  According to CBS News, the only organization doing a systematic count, some 215,000 people armed with signs, costumes, and a whole lot of sanity showed up to the Comedy Central-sponsored rally on Saturday, as compared to only 87,000 for Beck in his August rally.

For the millions who tuned in to C-Span, news shows, or the live internet stream, the rally’s comedic appeals and musical performances were surely entertaining, perhaps even thought-provoking. But many of the die-hard fans who made the journey to the nation’s capital had no such luck.  Standing among the huddled masses, they couldn’t hear or see a thing.

Perhaps because they are inexperienced rally organizers, or perhaps because they were far too modest in projecting turnout, Comedy Central failed to set up jumbo-tron screens and speakers along the national mall.  The inadequate electronics surrounding the stage were visible and audible to only a small percentage of the crowd.  Flustered participants chanted “Louder, Louder!” and “Turn it up!” to no avail.  Without a view of the stage or a way to hear the speeches, many retreated to nearby bars and coffee shops instead. 

"I couldn’t see or hear anything," said Ellen Roche, a 26-year-old DC resident who ended up watching the rally from a coffee shop.  "It didn’t seem like it was very well planned."  

Despite lacking access to the planned stage antics, participants found a worthy focus within the crowd itself.  Aside from its awesome size, the assembly was punctuated with costumes (thanks to the rally falling on Halloween weekend) and saturated with clever, sarcastic, and witty signs satirizing political sloganeering. For weeks, the Daily Show and Colbert Report encouraged people to prepare, photograph, and share their Sanity/Fear signs.  One man held high a yellow poster reading “My Arms Are Tired.”  Another said, “I’m mad as hell, but mostly in a passive aggressive way.”  Nearby, a colorful sign read “God Hates These Signs.” 

While the majority of the signs were playful, befitting the rally’s spirit, a significant minority were pointedly aimed at denouncing the Tea Party.  ”Don’t Tea On My Leg And Tell Me It’s Raining,’ read one.  Another, set by a trash can, advertised the receptacle as a place to recycle Tea Bags.  Parodying the seemingly endless comparisons of politicians to Hitler, one sign painted a somewhat less inflammatory mustache on Sarah Palin’s visage: That of Groucho Marx.

Ironically, a handful of people toted incendiary political signs, seemingly missing the rally’s message of moderation.  One woman dressed in a devil costume brought a poster depicting former Vice President Dick Cheney burning in Hell.  

While many of the people present were, strangely, the last to learn what happened on the rally’s central stage, they at least enjoyed taking part in an event intended to be equally entertaining and political.  To these parody activists and zealots of moderation, outshining Glenn Beck was itself a statement worth making.  But when it comes to the technical stuff, Comedy Central could learn a thing or two from Fox News.

-Niv Elis

Quotidian Dissent’s blogger-in-chief Niv Elis writes on Jon Stewart in the Christian Science Monitor!

The Ruckus - October 27, 2010

In this edition of The Ruckus, Quotidian Dissent’s round-up of interesting and exciting protests around the world, we bring you street riots, frogs legs, and protest votes.

  • In Ecuador, anti-government protests over planned wage cuts spiralled out of control, resulting in five deaths.  The protesters attacked President Rafael Correa and kept him holed up in a hospital, in what he called an attempted Coup.  In France, weeks of strikes, protests, and occasional street violence against austerity measures (like raising the retirement age from 60 to 62) are losing steam, while marches against austerity measures in Romania are just heating up.
  • The voting booths in Nevada are home to a unique form of protest.  The ballot includes the option to vote for “None of These Candidates,” giving voters an option to officially register their disaffection with the listed candidate.  Beyond mere symbolism, the ballot quirk may play into the re-election strategy of embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 
  • In a case that blurs the line between protesting and stalking, a crazed anti-gay activist (who happens to be an Assistant Attorney General in Michigan) ran a multi-faceted one-man campaign against the University of Michigan’s student body president, who happens to be gay.
  • Responding to the international outcry and sharp diplomatic rebukes, Iran dropped the stoning death sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman convicted of adultery.  State officials said she could still be sentenced for the alleged murder of her husband.
  • A group of eighth graders outside the District of Columbia gathered outside the Rio Grande Cafe restaurant in defense of frogs.  The chain, which serves up frog legs, is helping the United States approach France and Belgium as the top eaters of the amphibians.  The kids are part of an amphibian conservation group called Save The Frogs.

Stay tuned Quotidian Dissent’s coverage of the Stewart/Colbert rallies, the story of a 12-year protester, and watch for our article this week in the Christian Science Monitor!

Remembering to Never Forget Darfur

The pile of dead teenagers strewn on the grass of Lafayette Park flummoxed the South Korean tourist group who had come to photograph the White House.  The corpses lay alongside black paper tombstones inscribed in chalk: “200,000 - 400,000 have DIED since 2003”; “3,600 people die per day”; “22% of people do not have access to clean WATER”; “Let’s save Darfur NOW!  Stop the Silence.”

The teenagers in the “Die-In” are members of the Maryland chapter of Young Judaea, a Zionist youth movement that espouses social action and peer leadership.  “We are reminding people that Darfur is still happening,” says 16-year old Frances Lasday, the high school student from North Potomac Maryland who thought up the protest. 

But why is a Zionist movement concerned about Darfur to begin with?  “When it happened to us in the Holocaust, we said never again, so we’re trying to promote that message that we won’t stand by and watch another people go through that same thing,” says Ilan Simanin, 17.  Indeed, the Jewish community has been heavily involved in Darfur activism from early on; about a third of the Save Darfur Coalition’s directors are Jewish.  But the Young Judaeans are concerned that people have habituated to the genocide.  “A lot of people forget about it sometimes because it’s been going on for seven years and nothing’s happened,” says Lasday.  As such, vows to “Never Forget” are themselves in danger of being forgotten.  People must be reminded to “Never Forget” again and again. 

Like Dream University, the group that protested for immigration reform by holding “teach-ins” with immigrant youth this past July, the Young Judaeans begin their protest with a lesson.  But whereas the adult Dream University coordinators ran the lessons for their students, the Young Judaea staff simply step back and allow the teens to teach one another. 

Sitting in a circle, they discuss the history of the conflict, circulate political cartoons about Darfur, and discuss political and moral dilemmas.  Should Israel, for example, be responsible for taking in refugees from Darfur?  Some think that, given the Holocaust, it has a moral responsibility.  Others interject that there are practical difficulties to opening their borders.  How can the United States help?  Should it pressure China, which has more economic influence on Sudan?  How?

Armed with the facts, the young activists go about making their tombstones.  “Can we die already?” they chide one other.  Finally, they sprawl out on the lawn with their tombstones and wait.  They feel a little silly as the tourists start to stare, but take comfort that their peers in New York City, Chicago, and San Diego are carrying out the same protest.  Lasday and her friends originated the idea over the summer at a leadership program at Young Judaea’s summer camp, Tel Yehuda, and decided to coordinate it nationally.

“We just want to put in our two cents and show the world that we want to make a difference,” says Rachel Goldberger, 16.  Given the leadership skills, training, and opportunities their movement infuses into them, there is little doubt that someday, they will.

-Niv Elis

Rally? What Rally?

Context is everything. 

Normally, tens of thousands of citizens gathering in the nation’s capital would be considered a victorious display of strength.  But in the wake of the recent Glenn Beck Rally and Tea Parties in Washington, the union-organized One Nation Working Together rally seemed woefully under-attended.  Intended to demonstrate that the American left is still alive and kicking, the rally instead landed with a muffled thud on the national mall.

Whereas Beck attracted throngs of people impassioned by fiery rhetoric, big names, and audacious theatricality, One Nation’s response seemed merely a blip.  The mall’s spacious lawns displayed their full greenery, having recovered from some serious Tea Party treading just weeks before.   DC residents confronted with activists en route to the Lincoln Memorial quizzically muttered, “Rally?  What Rally?” 

The unions’ inability to produce the hype or headlines already surrounding the forthcoming Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies uncomfortably belied the event.  Were the obvious comparison points absent, and had the organizers not been such powerful national groups, the thousands of assembled marchers would have been impressive.

“I’m not a very big proponent of ordinary marches like this, so I’m just gonna put that right out there,” says Nadine Bloch, who works for the Washington Peace Center.  Instead, Bloch believes in using creative forms of resistance, cultural work, and direct action.  Towering over her, a 12-foot paper mache “Goddess of Peace and Liberation” demonstrates her views.  Covered with slogans such as “Fund Jobs, Not War” and “Build Schools, Not Bombs,” the Goddess is the creation of a consortium of social justice movements called The Peace Table.  “Marches are important for bringing communities together, showing strength to each other, perhaps sending a message to the White House, if you get really lucky.  So we’re here just to add color and creative expression.”

Close by, dressed in a snazzy suit and smoking a pretzel cigar, Harold Gotbucks III of the Buffalo Billionaires flashes a winning smile.  “The Billionaires decided we need to come down here and counteract these proletarian working people, running around and causing trouble,” he explains.  “They should just shut up and stop complaining!”  The satirical character is in reality Eric Gallion, a part-time engineer who bussed down with his local unions (shunning his private jet).  Gallion believes that humor adds an additional dimension to political debate, a notion that, once again, will come to the fore in the Stewart/Colbert rally.  “I think it makes it more fun and at the same time more real to people.  It’s too easy to just kind of blank out the people with signs.”

As with all large political events, the One Nation rally attracted a variety of like-minded groups hoping to capitalize on the event.  Exemplifying the plethora of causes, four women strolled through the crowd covered in bumper stickers collected from the myriad organizers.  “We just went to everybody, just meeting everybody and hearing their causes.”  The women, who traveled 14-hours by bus from Georgia, came to support the International Longshoreman’s Association/Local 1414 union, whose office is across the way from their restaurant Mama T’s.

For all its good causes, the One Nation rally may have ultimately been counter-productive for the unions.  Given the context, they may have inadvertently proved that they are no longer the backbone of the left. 

-Niv Elis

Sitting In Wheelchairs, Standing Up For Their Rights

Bobbie Wallach, who has suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for 30 years and is wheelchair-bound, was arrested last year.  Twice.  Now she’s back for more, handcuffing herself to the White House fence and participating in other forms of civil disobedience with ADAPT, the direct action group that fights (non-violently) for disability rights.  As they have every year for the past decade, the group has descended upon Washington, kicking up a stink about problems the disabled face everyday.

The central focus this year is nursing homes.  According to the group, programs like Medicaid favor nursing homes, which they say provide a lower quality of life, as a means of caring for those who need assistance.  “I’m protesting to get people out of nursing homes all over the country.  I’m here for them, because they cannot come down here themselves, and I can,” says Wallach.

Having lived in a Rochester nursing home until recently, Wallach is adamant that nursing home residents “have no rights.  They eat what they’re served.  They get a shower once a week!  That’s it.  There is nothing for them to do in a nursing home.”    

Kachina Rice, a Certified Nurse’s Assistant from Denver who spent 15 years working in nursing homes agrees.  “After working in the nursing home for all those times, I think life is more beneficial on the outside.”  She relays the story of one resident who hadn’t seen snow for five years because she was stuck indoors.  Breaking the nursing home rules, Rice took her outside to enjoy the winter landscape.  “She just bawled and cried.”

For ADAPT, plain old protest is not enough.  Direct action and civil disobedience are acceptable and useful alternatives for making their voices heard.  That’s one reason why Wallach, along with several of her wheelchair-bound compatriots, stop traffic with a blockade 4 wheelchairs deep and chain themselves to the White House fence, demanding to discuss their cause with political leaders.

Hundreds of wheelchair-bound individuals participating in acts of public disruption creates a jarring visual effect, says Josephine Williams, a 28-year old from Memphis, Tennessee (and one of the few participants in the crowd of several hundred who is not disabled).  In her view, the very notion of disabled activists clashes with common perceptions of the disabled as helpless people.  

“We don’t just stand there with signs.  We holler, we get in the way, and we don’t stop,” says Joe Casias, a Coloradan who works with Center for Independent Living. Breaking minor laws is a “squeaky wheel gets the grease kind of thing.  You get enough numbers and it makes the papers and it comes out there for the rest of the public and the nation to know what’s going on.”  When asked why she participates in civil disobedience, a fellow protester indignantly replies “Well we’re not gonna be violent!”

Title IX of the Social Security Act, which promises funds for people with disabilities to go to nursing homes, was created with good intentions, says Fran Fulton, a disabilities advocate from the Philadelphia branch of Center for Independent Living.  Yet, the homes have become an overused, expensive, and inhumane parking lot for the disabled.

“What it’s turned into is kind of a warehouse for people, especially people with disabilities. Young people who either don’t have a place to go to or maybe their parents have recently passed away and they have no caregivers assigned, or it could be someone who acquires a disability but can’t go home to their own house because it’s a row house with three flights of stairs,” says Fulton, who is blind.  “So you go to a nursing home.  And once you’re in it’s very hard to get out.”

While nursing homes are important for people who need constant medical attention, ADAPT is pushing to expand assisted home care as a more humane, efficient, and cheap alternative.  Instead of spending money on the facilities and administration, says Fulton, the government could far more cheaply offer in-home care for disabled people.  Fulton believes that the institutional favoritism toward nursing homes has contributed to their inefficiency.  “Nursing home is an industry, and they get the Medicaid dollars to supposedly care for you.”  

Wallach, who left her nursing home with the assistance of Centers for Independent Living, wholeheartedly agrees.  “The nursing home costs me $3,600 a month, whereas I get my own apartment for $400 a month.  Do what I want, get aids, eat what I want, have my own freedom of choice.  I think that is in the constitution!”

Although ADAPT has few qualms with breaking laws to get its point across, it functions within a legal system that has adapted to standard acts of civil disobedience.  Stunts like chaining yourself to a building or blocking traffic will lead to standard in-and-out of jail arrests and fines on par with speeding tickets.  Yet by incurring these higher costs and breaking protest norms, such actions convey a deeper conviction than the typical sign holding and slogan chanting.  It’s easy to understand why people like Wallach choose the more extreme option.  “I never want to go back to a nursing home, I don’t have to go back to a nursing home, I can get home care,” she says.  “It’s my civil right to live where I want and do what I want.”

-Niv Elis

NBC ran a story about protest at the White House.  Quotidian Dissent readers will recognize Peacewalker Mike Oren, Rocky Twyman of Pray at the Pump, a Palestine protest, and Concepcion Picciotto, the 30-year protester.

The Prayer Warriors

The Pray at the Pump group believes that there’s a solution for all of the nation’s problems.  Put politics aside, let go of silly policy ideas, and focus on a more powerful avenue of fixing the world: prayer.  It works with any religion, as long as you’re praying.  “It doesn’t matter to us.  It can be Muslim or whatever,”  says Rocky Twyman, the group’s founder.  

In fact, the members of the group are mostly Seventh-Day Adventists, a Protestant-like denomination that celebrates Saturday as the Sabbath, and their philosophy draws heavily on the Christian bible. “If you go to the Bible it says ‘God is a jealous god,’ and He wants us to give Him credit.”  Not doing so has brought about the collapse of kings and kingdoms time and time again, says Twyman.

While prayer is important for all, the group has recently set its focus on one man, whose prayers are, perhaps, closer to God’s ears.  Twyman believes that President Barack Obama could get a great deal more done if he were to only engage in public prayer, both to ask for help and give thanks.  “After all, God is the one who made it possible for him to even become President,” Twyman sermonizes, explaining that God went to great lengths to position Obama for the Presidency, bringing about, among other things, well-timed economic turmoil.

Twyman’s beliefs motivate him and several of his co-religionists toward numerous acts of protest, each aimed at raising awareness of faith, prayer, and its importance to public policy outcomes.  Before the Glenn Beck Rally in Washington, they gathered outside the White House to demand that Obama bring Beck and Al Sharpton, who was manning a counter-rally, together in prayer.  On Labor Day weekend, he and his self-proclaimed “Prayer Warriors” gathered at an unemployment center near Union Station to pray, sing, circulate a petition, and, according to their press release, “pass out candies of hope to help soften the blow” of unemployment.  They hope Obama is paying attention and will find some humility in the face of the great creator.  ”HARVARD WISDOM IS FOLLY TO THE RULER OF THE UNIVERSE,” their petition reads.

Unemployment and Glenn Beck are not the only problems prayer can tackle.  It can work on anything from war to natural disaster. The BP oil spill could have been cleaned up much sooner with a little help from God, says Twyman.  ”Cuz he made the Earth!  He knows, man!  He knows what to do!”

But Twyman isn’t just acting on faith.  He’s had confirmation from his previous experiences that prayer works.  The Pray at the Pump movement started, as its name indicates, by conducting prayer vigils at gas stations in the summer of 2008, when the price of oil hit a record high.  “We prayed and God blessed our efforts and the prices started coming down whenever we prayed!”  

Never mind that the price of oil came tumbling down due to reduced demand, caused by the fast deterioration of the American economy.  As you’ll recall, that was part of the plan to get Obama into power in the first place.

God works in mysterious ways.

-Niv Elis

A Holiday Born of Protest

This Labor Day, in addition to enjoying barbecues and celebrating the end of a relentlessly hot summer, Quotidian Dissent would like to recall the history of the holiday.  It sprung forth from a protest:

The original inspiration of Labor Day was a protest of the traditional 12 hour work day.  Worker strikes, boycotts, unrest and even riots laid the groundwork for labor reform and a dedicated day off honoring all American workers, with rallies and parades starting in 1882.  The first parade was the result of the US troops opening fire on striking workers in New York City that year.

Two years later…the famous Pullman coach worker’s strike against the nation’s railroads literally shut down commerce coast to coast and erupted in violence.  With over 125,000 railroad workers striking, 13 strikers were killed and more than 50 injured in a riot in Chicago.  Later that year, the first Monday in September was sanctioned by the Federal government as a national holiday.

Thankfully, labor laws have come a long way since then; the only people gathered outside the White House today were tourists.  -QD

Pullman Town Strike - Where It All Began

Glenn Hearts Barack - A Love Story

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Glenn Beck has a huge man-crush on a figure he regularly tears apart on his show: President Barack Obama.

In addition to “taking back” the civil rights movement, Beck also appears to be “taking back” Obama’s Change movement.  Take, for example, the images that Beck uses on his show (and on his merchandise) to promote his values:

They are religious, conservative variations of the Shepard Fairey-designed Obama logos used in the 2008 Presidential campaign.  Instead of Obama, they feature past presidents and the values Beck cites as the essential teaching of Jesus: Faith, Hope, and Charity.  The Obama icons, instead, promoted Change, Progress and Hope, the one value they share.

Some commentators have noticed a parallel between Beck’s current speeches and Obama’s campaign speeches.  In 2008, Obama told crowds that “One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”  Beck, at his “Rally to Restore Honor,” said “One man can change the world…That man or woman is you. You make the difference.”

Both try to mobilize their audiences by appealing to the American ideal of individual participation as a means of improving society.  For example, which of these two quotes was Glenn Beck, and which was Barack Obama?  

We have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.  This is the price and the promise of citizenship.  This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.


We as individuals must be good so America can be great!  America is at a crossroads…Do we do what every great generation has done in America in times of trouble: look ahead, dream about what we are going to become, not what we are?  Look forward, look West, look to the heavens, look to God, and make your choice.

Hard to tell, right?  The first was Obama’s inauguration speech, the second was Beck at his Rally.

Obama notably invoked the image of Lincoln in his campaign, taking the same train ride from Illinois to Washington for his inauguration and being sworn in on Lincoln’s bible.  Beck, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, went as far as to reread the Gettysburg Address, noting its continuing resonance.

But why in the world would Glenn Beck, the demagogue of the religious right, follow in the footsteps of Barack Obama?  The reason is that he is playing to an audience motivated by similar emotions as the electorate in 2008.  The Tea Party movement, despite vastly different politics, is really a mirror image of Obama’s Change movement. 

Obama was vaulted to power on the momentum of a populace disillusioned with a dysfunctional government, seeking change from the misadventurous George W. Bush administration that led to two wars and an economic crisis.  In the Tea Party, the political doppelganger of the Change movement, Beck sees the same features: idealistic activists who believe that the country is on the wrong track politically and desperately want things to change.  

All that Tea Party anger the media is so fond of citing is built on a desire for different politics, albeit from a conservative perspective, seeking to restore fonder, simpler times.  Guy Miconi, an Italian immigrant and Glenn Beck supporter from New Jersey longs for such a restoration to America’s glory days. “This was the Mecca. People wanted to come.  People spoke so highly of the United States.  Go to America, and you work hard, and you’ll earn anything you want to do.  But guess what, you can’t do that anymore.”

Even with a copycat political strategy, Beck will continue to use his unique brand of fear mongering, religion, and apocalyptic rhetoric to motivate his followers. Don’t be too surprised if his next book is called “The Hope of Audacity.”

-Niv Elis

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