Two Protests Ten Years Apart

I’m always surprised at the kind of interesting articles pop up in The London Review of Books. In this case, it’s a short piece by Keith Gessen (subscription required), a writer, originally from Russia, who makes an interesting observation about Occupy Wall Street and a little kerfluffle down in Florida back in 2000.

There must have been at least 10,000 people yesterday in Foley Square. It took your breath away. The neoclassical façades of five courthouses face onto the square; they usually give the place a desolate look, like you’ve suddenly been dropped into Washington DC. But with all these people on it, it felt … European. There were plenty of middle-aged union workers; there were representatives of community organisations from across the city; but there were also plenty of the sort of interesting-looking, serious-looking and (you secretly suspect) totally frivolous people more or less your age who you see walking around the city. Comrades, it turns out.

I hadn’t thought of it in a while, and yet I wandered back in my mind to a protest we had all missed. I remember it from television: a group of young Republicans, men and women, in business attire, chanting outside a school cafeteria (I think it was) where the Florida recount was taking place, urging it to stop. The Wall Street Journal would celebrate them a short time later as a spontaneous ‘bourgeois riot’; in fact, they were congressional aides flown down to Florida by the Republican Party. But where were we? We sat it out, while the bourgeois mob delivered its message: if the votes are counted and the results reversed accordingly, there will be civil war.

Certainly no serious commentator has questioned the authenticity of the Occupy Wall Street protest, not even the most wingnutty of wingnuts can question the authenticity of the crowds that have descended upon lower Manhattan.  But the authenticity of the faux-protests in Florida? Perhaps we should have had more foresight to recognize the risk the Republic faced by this most inauthentic of protests.


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