. . . . . . . * . .

04 September 2006

"There is Silence in the Streets; Where Have All the Protesters Gone?" asks New York Times editor Andrew Rosenthal. Perhaps they're all in the big space where his brain used to be. . . .

Rosenthal writes from a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert at Madison Square Garden, which is pretty much the perfect symbol of his narrowly institutional perspective. The New York Times did its best to ignore and downplay the anti-globalism movement before September 11, and the antiwar movement afterwards. If times have, indeed, quieted politically -- an arguable proposition -- then Rosenthal and the Times editorial team ought to examine the part it played.

"When you hear Young and Company sing of “four dead in Ohio,” their Kent State anthem, it’s hard to imagine anyone on today’s campuses willing to face armed troops. Is there anything they care about that much?" whines Rosenthal. But where was the Times during the Republican National Convention in 2000? Or, for that matter, after the day of officially sanctioned protest in New York City four years later? By then, of course, the street protests had largely become an act of hollow theater, valuable more for preserving the possibility of street action than street action itself.

This point is, perhaps, part of why the streets seem so quiet to Rosenthal; a few hundred thousand people marching on the White House or central Manhattan don't seem to carry the weight they once did. Maybe this is just a trick of history. Maybe, hopefully, a progressive people will look back twenty years from now and perceive a time when dissidents planted the seeds of a more sensible political system.

But if not, maybe scholars will see the New York Times reduction of antiwar and antiglobalism protests to a few pictures, ignoring the substance of the critiques and the conflicts -- the wrongful arrests and incarcerations, the sheer scale of public authority mobilized against protesters, particularly the anti-globalists -- as part of why protests stopped meaning anything. Maybe if Andrew Rosenthal had spent less time on nostalgia trips at Madison Square Garden and more time in the streets when it mattered, he wouldn't be so worried now about this country's fate.