To Protest or Not To Protest

To quote Albert Einstein, ‘If I remain silent, I am guilty of complicity.’

President Tr**p arrives in Britain on Friday the 13th of July. (Supposedly – he could cancel at any minute.) When I first heard about this visit some two months ago, my gut instinct was to appear outside Downing Street with a placard saying ‘Women of the World Against Trump.’ This sign would sum up a number of issues ranging from ‘grabbing pussy’ to cutting off overseas aid for women’s health.

But two months is a long time in the hate-filled-mud-slinging world of this US president. Since the announcement of Tr**p’s upcoming visit, the US has pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, the US Embassy has moved to Jerusalem (unravelling decades of diplomacy), some 2000 migrant children have been separated from their parents and put into detention centres, without tougher gun laws another 25 mass shootings occurred in America (including one yesterday at a newspaper in Maryland – hard to separate this from the anti-media atmosphere of this president), and now his Muslim travel ban has been given the go ahead. While all of this is going on, a slew of environmental protection laws are being axed. There’s simply too much to protest against and not enough placards to go around.

On the other hand, I wonder if I should show up at all. POTUS seems to thrive on attention, positive and negative. Since most of what he does is deserving of a negative response, I fear that giving him attention is going to produce more of the same. That is, we need child psychology for dealing with this man-child.

I also wonder about the power of protests. That sounds like a contradiction coming from me. Yes, of course, I was in London Saturday among the 100,000 plus anti-Brexit protesters demanding a people’s vote of the final Brexit deal. And it was a success. Our protest was the lead story on most of the news programmes that night and on the front covers of most of the newspapers Sunday morning. The initial analysis from the political pundits is that this protest sent a message to the minority of hard Brexiters in government and possibly the inert Jeremy Corbyn, along with jump starting some of those remainers who have given up the fight. That’s all fine and good.

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People’s Vote march 23 June 2018.

A protest against Tr**p is another matter. It’s likely to be on the news, but what kind of message is it going to send? There’s no single solid message or legalisation coming up (as in the case of Brexit) to be impacted or potential votes to be lost by protesting against him.  Tr**p has secured his Alt-Right base, held on to reluctant Republican support with tax cuts and corporate welfare and normalised his hateful and child-like rhetoric through saturation.

Returning to Einstein, I refuse to remain silent. But I think there are more effective ways than another street protest for confronting Tr**p and all his nastiness. From this side of the Atlantic, petitioning and writing to our own governments to stand up to this US president on particular issues is a start. So too is supporting the many NGOs, such as Amnesty International and NRDC (Natural Resources Defence Council), whose organised lobbies and legal teams have a fighting chance. With these ideas in mind, this time, I’m staying at home with my cardboard and placard stick.

Rosewater: another side of journalism

Based on the best-selling memoir Then They Came for Me, Jon Stewart’s film about journalist Maziar Bahari serves as a reminder of how fragile freedom of the press can be. Rosewater chronicles the capture and imprisonment of the Iran-born Canadian journalist, who was arrested for filming protests in Iran against Ahmadinejad’s dubious victory over Mousavi. Bahari was charged with espionage and for 118 days underwent Kafkaesque interrogations and torture along with being held in solitary confinement.

For fans of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, there isn’t much humour in Rosewater. It nonetheless is aware of an entertainment value, taking mise-en-scène and cinematography into artistry. The narrative is also for a more discerning audience. Instead of following the formula of scenes cutting back and forth between the prisoner and his distraught family, we see the imprisonment through the eyes of the prisoner. As he doesn’t know what his wife or his colleagues are doing to secure his release, we don’t see any of that until quite late in the story and only when Bahari learns that Secretary of State Clinton is trying to get him out. A brief flashback follows, filling us in on the parallel story of family, colleagues and news coverage, mixing Bahari’s imagination with the true happenings. The same drama in the hands of another director, say Ron Howard, would have followed the more traditional formula and milked the family story, especially as the wife was pregnant at the time.

Bahari is just one among many journalists who have been arrested, detained, even killed for reporting events that expose flaws in governments or protests against them. We see this in Erdogan’s Turkey, in Iran, Syria, Myanmar and Trump’s America, to name a few. These cases of attacking the messenger are even more disturbing at a time when so-called democracies are accusing the media of producing fake news. Of course, we are bombarded with fake news, politically bias news and what I call propagandist’s news (as in The Daily Mail in the UK and America’s Fox News). As odious as some of these can be, they do have a right to express themselves. It just puts more demands on the public to fact check stories and to support the more reputable news outlets. I make that sound easier than it is – which brings me back to Rosewater and the case of Maziar Bahari. Journalism has become a more complex endeavour, a multi-sided object, where one side risks obscuring the other.

I conclude this look at another side of journalism by purloining a campaign slogan from Amnesty International – Journalism is not a crime.