July 10, 2004

Coffee and conventions.

I've been sitting here at Espresso Royale, drinking caffeine long enough to start finding the laughter of human beings bizarre and annoying and reading and blogging long enough to run my laptop battery down to 48%. I'm torn between two directions to walk upon exiting this place. I could turn left and walk up to the Capitol Square, where, this week, the Art Fair is taking place. I love art, so I hate the Art Fair, but I might go up there and see what might be photographable. (The camera transforms places I don't like into destinations.) I could turn right and head up to the Law School, where I would like to edit a handout for Monday's Conlaw class, an answer key to the Spring exam. Other tasks abound--notably, writing the exam (to be given on Thursday) and editing the Civpro2 materials for Fall. [UPDATE: Left turn avoided.]

A few minutes ago, a colleague broke my screen-staring spell, and we chatted for a minute. She's off to various destinations, including Boston. I said I hoped she wasn't going during the Convention, because things are reputedly going to be very inconvenient. (She's not.) This led to a bit of a discussion about what the demonstrations in New York and Boston were going to be like. I was thinking about this New Yorker Talk of the Town.
“It’s going to be a little bit like the Battle of Seattle,” Pat Buchanan, the former Presidential candidate, predicted the other day, alluding to the large-scale demonstrations against the World Trade Organization conference in 1999, during which police fired rubber bullets at overzealous protesters. ...

Buchanan [reminisced about the 1968 Democratic convention where he] quickly realized that images of the most rabid, unruly protesters—inevitably the focus of television coverage—provided better counter-spin than any Republican sound bite could. ...

This year’s preĆ«lection fervor calls to mind 1968 in many ways, though clearly the scenarios are not quite parallel. Democratic activists are intending to undermine the Republicans’ Convention, not their own. And Pat Buchanan is no longer a Republican operative. ... Buchanan plans to be in New York for the Convention, as a journalist. He will be wearing a coat and tie, of course, and some lessons of Chicago and Seattle will linger in his mind.

“I thought the demonstrators in Seattle”—the anarchist minority, that is—“destroyed the effectiveness of a protest by union people and a broad-based coalition,” he said. He imagined a swarm of his antiwar brethren: “If the image is of the President and Republicans assembled inside, having a strong, united, purposeful Convention, and you’ve got a bunch of ragtag, you know, anarchists and leftists and long-haired demonstrators and foulmouthed accusers outside, well, the contrast—I can tell you who will win that one.”

My colleague responded to this image by saying that it would be important then for demonstrators to think of creative ways to earn the attention of the TV news editors. I said something cynical about puppets--meaning those large political effigies one always sees at demonstations--and she opined that those puppets were great. I really don't think those things are going to tend to counter the impression created by ugly or chaotic demonstrations. We'll see soon enough.

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