Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Unity 2000 lays an egg: Protest march was long on sincerity, woefully short on creativity

by Ian Abrams
Guest Opinion

The pomp! The pageantry! The papier-mache!

Actually, not much pomp and pageantry was on display at the Unity 2000 march or the other protests of the last few days.
What you saw was mostly a great display of sincerity, deeply held convictions stuck onto signs, T-shirts, buttons and the occasional tattoo, and carried or worn by a lot of very serious, mostly young, people.

However, sincerity doesn't necessarily make for great entertainment. Viewed purely as showmanship, Unity 2000 was overwhelmingly underwhelming.

A little less sincerity and a little more political theater would have been appreciated. And despite their large numbers, even the welfare rights protesters yesterday didn't stir up much real drama.

The closest the Sunday parade usually got to theatricality was the occasional example of Large Object Political Iconography: a 10-foot, moist-eyed Bill Clinton, an eight-foot dancing Pentagon, a towering Central American mother, a 50-foot inflatable missile on a flatbed truck. More creative than most: A giant pair of hands with two live "politicians" dangling at the ends of puppet strings.

But irony and humor were in short supply, as was plain old originality. The socialists, out in force, chanted recycled rhymes from the '60s: "Hey hey, ho ho, Bush and Cheney have got to go!"

You'd think that trying to sell socialism in 2000 America would be like hawking Thalidomide at a Lamaze class; the least it calls for is new packaging. But there they were, waving identical signs with an air of high seriousness.

The Revolutionary Communist Brigade was marching, too. Despite having the New Coke of political philosophies, they were the snappiest dressers, dozens of mostly unsmiling Revolutionary Youth in matching black T-shirts and red bandanas.

But the socialists, like the communists and National Abortion Rights League and the American Atheists and the Universalist Unitarians, all seemed to espouse the real unifying theme of Unity 2000:

"We believe this, and we're right, so this is what you should believe, too."

Nobody was trying to get a point across using anything except the most direct hard sell.

Well, almost nobody. Close to the rear of the parade came a large, happy contingent - men in ties and toppers, women in long dresses and tiaras. They were the phony plutocrats of Billionaires for Bush (or Gore), marching behind the banner "Because Inequality Is Not Growing Fast Enough."

Had their tongues been any more firmly in their cheeks, these guys would have had to use sign language.

But they managed to do creative violence to a lot of stale material:

One-two-three-four, We just want to earn  much more.
Five-six-seven-eight, Don't you dare tax  our estate!

And

Welfare for the wealthy-- Keep our profits healthy!

Also,

Down with democracy; Up with plutocracy!

The men lit real cigars off fake $1,000 bills - those they didn't hand out as tips to the parade marshals ("You're doing a great job - keep it up!").

The women leaned more toward cigarettes in long holders. They stopped frequently and led the crowd in chants - the crowd actually joined in, which is more than you could say for the Stop the Stadium marchers.

If you talked one on one with a "Billionaire" - which a lot of people did - they were a chatty bunch, staying cheerfully in character, explaining why the proven policy is always to buy both candidates.

These guys have tapped into a thick vein of intentional irony. They've figured out how to get their point across by selling something other than the depth of their convictions and the righteousness of their cause, doing more than preaching to the choir. Their tactics might conceivably make somebody start to actually think about the issue of money in politics.

If the Revolutionary Communist Brigade had a fraction of the imagination of the Billionaires for Bush (or Gore), I'd be a little concerned.

Fortunately, all they had was T-shirts.


Ian Abrams directs the Dramatic Writing Program at Drexel University.