The glamour of street protesting is short-lived

By R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. - - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

This is supposedly the week of multitudinous demonstrations in Washington. The hordes are getting more media attention than the hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters who are also coming into town. Whether the multitudinous demonstrations will be as multitudinous as anticipated by the media I cannot say. Certainly they are getting plenty of publicity already, though their actual numbers as of Tuesday night were disappointing.

Al Charlatan’s (ne Sharpton’s) turnout Saturday was rather puny I am told. I may have seen it, but then again I may have not. I was on my way to J. Press, a men’s store, on Saturday. There was a small demonstration near the Lincoln Memorial. The demonstrators were reclining on the grass in some sort of formation, possibly doing yoga. Could these have been Al’s troops?

They seemed confused, even disorientated. What also struck me about them was they were shabbily dressed, so shabbily as to appear pathetic. I reported on this aspect of the modern-day street demonstration in this column months ago at the time of the Republican convention. Supposedly the anti-Trump fever was at new heights. Yet, the 21st century street protester just does not live up to the sartorial standards set back in the 1960s. They are dirty, do not appear to be well fed, and their clothes appear to be hand-me-downs, hand-me-downs from street people. Also many appeared bedazed.

I recall the good old days of the 1960s anti-war demonstrations, the anti-war demonstrations plus civil rights demonstrations; the anti-war demonstrations plus civil rights demonstrations plus legalization of marijuana demonstrations, and throw in free-love and the abolishment of grades demonstrations — perhaps even the abolishment of classes. The participants in those demonstrations knew how to dress. Many looked like Che Guevara before he had his fatal run-in with the CIA. Or at least they looked like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Tom Hayden. Sure, they were dirty, but it only took a night at Mommy and Daddy’s with soap and shampoo to clean them up. And they were ignorant and unhappy and they could rarely get up for a demonstration before noon, but they dressed in military fatigue clothes and one could imagine them in the jungle with Che before his unpleasant demise. Possibly their clothier was L.L. Bean.

I cannot say I knew Abbie Hoffman, but anyway he did not sound like a lot of laughs. In fact, he proved it in 1989 when he took 150 phenobarbital tablets and liquor, whereupon he assumed room temperature. He was then living in a turkey coop. One-hundred-and-fifty tablets. I never trusted a demonstrator who could not hold his phenobarbital.

Then there was Jerry Rubin. He led massive demonstrations, and I even attended a couple of them. Actually, at one I stood right next to him, close enough to observe his belly fat, which enveloped his belt. He was not what I would call physically fit, though he did make his audiences laugh. He went on in the 1970s and 1980s to become a Wall Street titan, then a business consultant and networker. Then he pedaled “life enhancing” supplements. He had an office in Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard (as did President Ronald Reagan). One day, while jaywalking the six lanes of Wilshire Boulevard, he was hit by a passing vehicle and died two weeks later in the hospital. He was 56. At least his life span went four years beyond Hoffman’s, and he never suffered the indignity of that turkey coop.

Finally, there was Tom Hayden whom I knew quite well. When he was married to Jane Fonda he sent me Christmas cards — or maybe it was Jane who sent me the cards. Perhaps she knew my weakness for Hollywood glitz. At any rate, we appeared on radio and possibly television together. One memorable occasion was “The Bob Grant Show.” Tom was reluctant to tell the radio audience of the taunts he had taught his peace demonstrators to intone to the cops in Chicago’s Grant Park in 1968 just before the cops became unruly and the demonstrators’ blood began to flow. But I was there, and I told the audience of Tom’s taunts to the young Irish and Italian cops about their wives. Tom never forgave me. I thought he would be proud. Tom died last year. He made it to 76.

The thing this week’s demonstrators should remember about even the well-dressed demonstrators of days gone by is that though some might achieve momentary fame, all fame passes. Then it is back to the tedium of their present lives. Better it is to have a job and a family than Abbie Hoffman’s turkey coop and Jerry Rubin’s office on Wilshire Boulevard. Not even Tom’s culmination was all that great.

Donald Trump during the late campaign allegedly made some rude remarks about the demonstrators’ favorite classifications of human beings. Now they are going to make an even ruder display before the authorities move in. I think Donald would tell them: It is not a very good deal.