Protests Segue into Silliness

Published in the Wisconsin State Journal on Saturday, October 1, 2011

The best time to paint a house is two years before the house needs it. The rule comes to mind because in Wisconsin, autumn presents the last chance to paint a house until spring.

The rule also comes to mind every time a news item appears about protesters gathering for a lunch hour sing-against in the Capitol.

But in their case the rule applies with these variations: The best time to amass political power is years before it’s needed. Without that having been done, protests against its loss amount to only an aimless mass of tambourines, stabbed balloons and the vaguely focused agitprop of Kumbaya. In short, the chance to overturn the heavy-handed political maneuvers of Scott Walker and the Tweedledee-Tweedledum Fitzgeralds is not embedded in the chance of a recall election because the chance was lost years before.

Something else is at work here. Last week I received a message from J, a friend who in the 1960s grew up down bay from San Francisco under the pine and eucalyptus canopies of Palo Alto. J is a wicked smart writer who teaches at a PAC-12 university. Nevertheless, because of who she is and how she arrived there, she invariably misses points.

Thus, it didn’t surprise me that her message questioned why there was “nothing on NPR” about the protesters gathering daily on Wall Street. I replied that the answer to her question was contained in her phrase “nothing on NPR.” I countered her subsequent lack of amusement with an explanation out of the ’60s.

I traced what J considered my cynicism and my Pavlovian aversion to hearing “this is MEE-shell Norris” to the protests of the ’60s that the current Wall Street event as well as the Capitol Square protests mimic but do not replicate.

I can remember back then sitting in the bar at Naval Air Station Alameda, Oakland, Calif., and talking to fellow aviators who’d just flown in off their carriers. They expressed the sincere wish that they still had ordinance on their wing pylons as they banked over Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus.

Sproul Hall was the actual and spiritual epicenter of circa-then protest, and it was directly under one final approach into Alameda. Sproul Hall was the antithesis of everything their long tours in Vietnam sought to accomplish. You may understand their point, perhaps. It was then my point as well.

The protests of the ’60s changed this country forever. If, prior to that decade, the social contract still existed, it did not after. The children of the ’60s, particularly those tracing their ideological lineage to the flower children ideal forged in Golden Gate Park and other venues in San Francisco, would call that a change for the better. I, on the other hand, note that change as part of the decline of civilization.

It may seem surprising to many residents of Dane County, wherever they are, that anyone could believe that. On the other hand, those residents might be surprised that many of the other residents of Dane County and the other counties of Wisconsin, wherever they are, combine their long memories associated with the ’60s with the news items about the current crop of protesters within the halls of the Capitol to find the current protest wearisome.

What began as a perfectly understandable reaction to the Walker administration’s first salvos now seems to have become with the imperceptible ease of a film dissolve just something to do during lunch. Sincerity has segued into silliness.

If you don’t like Scott Walker and what he is trying to accomplish, it is time to go home and resolve to rebuild a political base strong enough to prevail over his or his successors’ efforts.

Link to the essay in the Wisconsin State Journal:

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