Opinion column: Picking the right battles

Illustration Illustration

Illustration Illustration

By Kiyoshi Martinez

By the time you read this, the Republican National Convention’s members will have kicked the propaganda machine into overdrive. Noted members First lady Laura Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speak tonight. Education Secretary Rod Paige speaks, too, but we all know he exists for the sole purpose of killing time.

While watching Arnold could be as entertaining as watching “Commando,” a favorite film of mine, the highlights of the RNC will not come from high-profile speakers. Instead, the most intriguing coverage will come from outside the convention floors of Madison Square Garden.

Track back to last Wednesday. New York Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline Silbermann makes a decision to deny protesters the right to rally at Central Park the night before the RNC begins. The reasoning behind taking away First Amendment rights? Keep off the grass.

Thank you, Justice Silbermann, for safeguarding the sacred grounds of Central Park from defecation. After all, you would not want peace-loving, Kerry-supporting tree huggers to protest on the fertile soils of the Empire State Building. Greenpeace owes you a medal, and the GOP owes you a fruit basket.

At least the protesters have decided to cooperate. The United for Peace and Justice coordinator encouraged members to rally elsewhere and abide by the anti-constitutional ruling. Perhaps this entire kaleidoscope of hatred for the Bush administration will work out. Everyone will hold hands, sing psalms of peace and smoke pot while walking down the valley of dissent.

Yet, last Friday, a group of protesters riding bicycles felt compelled to block traffic and wreak havoc on the streets of Manhattan. With more than 5,000 bipedal protesters and a few hundred arrests, the environmental group, Time’s Up, created an event that accomplished nothing more than congested city traffic.

Call them what you will, but these protesters should share the refuse of society alongside cockroaches.

“Whose streets? Our streets!” the crowd chanted. Fortunately, the police arrived to show them otherwise. The streets belong to everyone, not just to a grassroots protest. People with jobs and responsibilities use streets to commute and participate as productive members of society. Events like the Time’s Up rally exist only to disrupt. The group only taught the good citizens of New York where to direct their frustrations.

The right to peacefully protest ends when you decide to cause property damage and inhibit another person’s right to perform their daily routine. And to what end did these champions of the American way hope to accomplish? Nothing more than upsetting cabbies and blocking ambulances that actually had somewhere more important to be. Great job, and mission accomplished.

In the end, when New York’s Finest book and fingerprint the cyclists, the small but loud few will cry out with a great message – one that resonates only to the irrational:

“We were only trying to protest peacefully! Bring down Bush!”

No. Sorry. Wrong. At best they are petty criminals; a pain in the desolate cavities of the ordinary everyday citizens who know how to behave; the cancer of the Democratic Party; the obnoxious protesters who accomplish the single task of pissing off those who rather would just get back to their regularly scheduled lives and vote on election day.

When it comes to the right to assemble, certain restrictions may apply. Cops stand ready to do their jobs, while the protesters walk the razor-thin line dividing public demonstration and public enemy. While the dissenting mob mimics an attention whore, you have to wonder if they will bother to listen to what their enemy says.

But I guess talking, listening and reasoning is boring when compared to waving picket signs in the air and feeling the euphoric rush of being yet another card-carrying member of the anti-Bush ranks.

Kiyoshi Martinez is a junior in journalism. His column runs Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]