Pentagon Protest II

New Orleans Hope springs more eternally than, well, spring it seems. At the best one could say that the 40th anniversary repeat of the March on the Pentagon from the same date in 1967 as this weekend was beaten by the weather. Reports estimated that there might have been between 10,000 and 20,000 in Washington, but that within an hour the miserably cold weather had driven the crowd down to 1,000 or so hardy souls. Some others may have been scattered in protests in other cities. Certainly, a movie star was pictured in the papers carrying a sign in Los Angeles.

The reports contrasted this to the earlier March on the Pentagon on the exact date four decades previously. The papers said that that event had 50,000. One current paper, probably written by a recent 20 something-year-old school journalism graduate said the notable thing about the first march was the attempt to levitate the Pentagon with the chants.

Baloney!

Most reports at the time conceded the numbers at more than 100,000. It was also bitingly cold and gray that day, though not snowing, so it was hard to remember the event as being held in welcoming weather. Norman Mailer knew he had a good story in Armies of the Night, and he certainly won the prizes for the book, but the levitating notion was a fringe Yippie thing that was sidebar to any of the main events and programs, and hardly the thing that made the event memorable.

I was there as a simple soldier in the movement against the war that wanted to take a stand at the Capitol, so my memories are as idiosyncratic as anyone else’s might be. I certainly don’t want to seem like a tedious old timer claiming that “ours” was better than yours, but….

Where is the anti-war movement? Was this event, which certainly could have been big since it coincided with spring break and hundreds of colleges, put together by an unrepresentative and marginal group? Are we living in a time when people are so “webbed up” that they have lost the ability (remember the same recent problem in the immigrant rights movement?) to turn out real people and demonstrate real anger with our boots on the ground?

Is our inability to organize at scale around the war strengthening the hand of the President to continue to pursue this crazy war?

Gut check!

Protesters against the war in Iraq carry a banner as they participate in the March on the Pentagon in Washington March 17, 2007.
Protesters against the war in Iraq participate in the ‘March on the Pentagon’ in Washington, March 17, 2007.
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Renting Demonstrators

New Orleans        I got an unusual tip from Janet Reasoner writing from the windswept, snowy plains of Wyoming to take a look at a piece in the German magazine, Der Spiegel, about renting protestors.  Yes, renting people to participate in your demonstration. 

    Seems a web based company called Erento.com based in Berlin pairs items with the market trying to rent everything from snow machines to private jets to, well, protestors.  The company lists more than 300 profiles of the potential demonstrators.  The profiles list “preferences” in terms of where the protestors would like to work in terms of geography.  Some would be willing to work all over Germany, while others would prefer to “work” within a shorter haul from Berlin.

    Some of this reads like a modeling agency!  Der Spiegel nails the matter this way:

    Judging by their profiles, most of the 300-plus people currently listed in the “rent a demonstrator” category are young and attractive. Potential agitators looking for support for their public protests can choose, for example, Steffen, age 22, 190 cm tall (6 feet 2 inches), “athletic” and with a shoe size of 45. He’s available for gigs all over Germany, but says he prefers the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Or Manuela, who has green eyes and “very long” hair and is available within a 100-kilometer range of Berlin. Included in the extensive personal information — which at times seems more suited to a dating site — are skin color and “appearance type,” which can be for example “European,” “African,” “South American” or “Asian.”
   
    Business is business so I was curious about the cost.  The going rate seems to be $188 for 6 hours of “work” or about 145 Euros.  The company takes about 5% as a management fee, leaving the remainder to the demonstrator.  The lowest rate seems to be about 10 Euros per hour or about $12+ per hour. 
   
    An association of doctors got into some controversy for renting about 200 of the protestors for a lobbying event.  Their spin in response was somewhat unique.  They argued that it was simply a public-relations effort rather than a real protest.  Huh?  I’ll have to think about the differences and distinctions there for a bit.
   
    Is this just a European phenomenon?  No way.  It may be a bit more out there than makes everyone comfortable, but there is an active market for the same kind of activity in the United States.  Increasingly in the world of web protests populated by a faceless base, when forced to have to show real people, too many “groups” on the right, left, and middle, are forced to “rent” a base or find a partner that still does the hard work of building one from the ground up.

Loud public protests accompanied the recent revelation that doctors had hired protesters for a December demonstration in front of Berlin’s Reichstag.
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