Under The Van

When we went to lunch on Tuesday, Broad Street was blocked off at the intersection of Broad and High, and we could see lots of police cars and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, gathered a block away at the intersection of Broad and Third.  As we crossed the street, I asked the friendly policeman what was going on.  He grinned, shrugged, and said that a protester had chained himself to the underside of a van.

“An anti-Trump protest?” I asked.  “Nope,” the officer said.  “The guy is protesting a pipeline.”  And as we walked in front of the Statehouse, we saw some protesters out front, handing out leaflets that read “water is life” and complaining that Ohio had sent some state troopers to help North Dakota deal with protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which native Americans and other groups contend will harm tribal lands and threaten water supplies.

When we came back from lunch an hour later, the hubbub was finally dying down.  The police had removed the protester and had the van on a flatbed truck, ready to be hauled away, as shown in the photo above.  The protester was an Athens County man who is part of an environmental group called Appalachia Resist, and he was arrested and charged with inducing panic, disorderly conduct, hindering, and failing to comply.

It seemed weird to protest the Dakota Pipeline in Columbus, Ohio, to the point where you would chain yourself to the underside of a van and block traffic for hours at one of downtown’s busiest intersections.  Even if you felt strongly about the wisdom of Ohio dispatching troopers to another state, staging a protest that just inconvenienced people and probably pissed them off doesn’t seem like an approach that is reasonably calculated to win people to your point of view.

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Sled Away, Kids!

Sometimes government regulations make you shake your head in wonder.  So it is with the ban on sledding on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.

People can freely walk on the grounds of the Capitol, so security can’t be the reason for banning sledding.  Instead, Capitol Police justified the ban by citing statistics that there are more than 20,000 sledding injuries in America each year — a rationale which would justify banning sledding everywhere.  Do the Capitol Police really think we’ll buy the notion that they did some analysis of sledding injuries before deciding to impose a silly ban on an age-old winter activity?  I suspect that the real reason for the sledding ban is that some crusty old members of Congress didn’t like the sound and commotion of kids having fun on one of the rare days when the District of Columbia gets enough snow to make sledding feasible and told the Police to do whatever they needed to stop it.

I’m glad that parents and kids went sledding in defiance of the idiotic ban, which should never have been imposed in the first place and is just another example of unnecessary government overreach.  The Capitol is our building; our elected representatives just work there.  So long as security isn’t impaired, we should be permitted to use the grounds for leisure activities like sledding or playing frisbee.  And parents — not the Capitol Police —  should making the decisions about the safety of their kids’ activities.

So sled away, kids!  And learn that sometimes you need to stand up — or sled down — for your rights.

Black Friday Showdown: “Occupiers” Versus Shoppers

According to news reports, some “Occupy” protesters are calling for “occupation” of outlets of large, publicly traded retailers — that is, virtually every store found in America — tomorrow.  If it happens, it would set up a monumental clash of the titans on the biggest shopping day of the year:

Ladies and gentlemen:  Welcome to the Black Friday throw down!

In this corner, a ragtag band of “Occupy Wall Street” protesters with a bad case of “bed head.”  They’re scruffy, angry, and utterly convinced of the righteousness of their cause. 

And in this corner, legions of amped-up holiday shoppers.  They’ve been up for hours, they’ve chugged gallons of black coffee, and they’re gunning to get all of their holiday shopping done in one stressful 18-hour period. 

The contest has begun!  The Occupy protesters have blocked the door to the Wal-Mart!  They’re doing their annoying human microphone shtick and trying to explain why large corporations suck.

 But the shoppers aren’t listening!  They’ve formed a flying wedge of shopping carts handled by angry plus-sized women who want to take advantage of the big Black Friday sales!  They’re ramming the Occupy protesters.  Wait just a minute!  Some of the shoppers have fainted from that special “Occupy” odor!  And the “Occupiers” are demanding free stuff from the shoppers!

Ladies and gentlemen, the confrontation has turned into a general melee.  The shoppers are clubbing the Occupy protesters with their heavy purses!  But now a phalanx of “Occupy” drummers has entered the fray!  Their loud, discordant drumming has momentarily stunned the shoppers!  Hold on a moment — the shoppers have regrouped!  They’re slashing at the Occupy protesters with the edges of their credit cards, and the Occupy protesters are giving way . . . .

If the “Occupy” protesters follow through with a Black Friday attempt to occupy stores, I’m betting on the shoppers.

Checking In On “Occupy Columbus”

This morning I walked over to the Statehouse to check out the “Occupy” protest, Columbus version.  It’s changed a little since my first visit.  Big doings were planned today for the Occupy Wall Street folks in NYC, so I thought the Columbus chapter might also be kicking into gear.  That turned out not to be the case.

As the photo I took indicates, the Columbus encampment is small and shabby — a few tents, a few wooden pallets, a cooler or two, a few garbage cans, and some stray signage fastened to steel fencing on the sidewalk in front of the Ohio Statehouse.  At least one of the tents was occupied, but no one was out chanting or doing anything else.  It was cold, so maybe the Occupy protesters decided that tapping on their laptop keyboards inside the tents was the smarter course.  The people waiting at the nearby bus stop, who far outnumbered anybody huddled in the tents, were trying to stay warm in a brisk wind and weren’t paying much attention to the Occupy folks, anyway.

The whole point of the Occupy protests still seems pretty obscure to me.  The signage at the Columbus camp didn’t provide much clarification, either.  Here were the signs that were visible this morning:  “The finest democracy money can buy,” “Monopolies kill off competition,” “Kill your TV and Do Your Research,” “Integrate the Federal Reserve,” and “Commercialized Culture TV, Radio, Music, Art, Religion.”  Is there a common, articulable theme in those signs, other than reflexive opposition to whatever might attract their attention?

At Today’s Sparse “Occupy Columbus” Protest

Today the “Occupy Wall Street” group held a protest in downtown Columbus at noon today.  The protest was mentioned on NPR this morning, so I walked over to check it out over the noon hour.  It was, to say the least, underwhelming.

I would estimate that about 20 protesters were there — and with the mention of the protest on NPR and the many college students and political types in town, I was expecting a much larger number.  The skimpy turnout was only a tiny fraction of the huge crowds that showed up for the Senate Bill 5 protests at the Statehouse earlier this year.  Then, the protesters filled pretty much every square foot of the Statehouse lawn and surrounding walkways.  Today’s little band, in contrast, was huddled on the sidewalk in front of the McKinley statute facing High Street.  Their numbers were so small that you could easily walk past them on the sidewalk.

The protesters were a motley group, with no apparent theme.  Among the signs I saw were one supporting prisoner’s rights, another opposing Issue 2, one simply reading “Glass-Steagall,” and another handwritten sign purporting to be a quote from Andrew Jackson.  There also was a sign opposing corporate greed, one that was anti-yuppie, one that advocated taxing the rich and ending “their war,” and another that blamed Goldman Sachs.  There were no chants, or drums, or much of anything in the way of noise. If it weren’t for the fact that two police cruisers and uniformed officers were present, you wouldn’t have even known a protest was going on.

According to the news media, the “Occupy Wall Street” protests are growing and spreading to other cities.  In Columbus, however, not so much.

Occupy The Smithsonian?

In addition to “Occupy Wall Street,” there’s also an “Occupy D.C.” protest afoot.  Yesterday those protesters tried to enter the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and clashed with museum guards.  At least one protester was arrested and the museum had to close two hours early.

The “Occupy Wall Street” people apparently are consciously leaderless; some news stories describe how the loosely organized protests allow everyone to have their say.  That may sound good, but if it causes the protesters to make decisions as idiotic as trying to occupy the Air and Space Museum, the protests will quickly become the object of anger and ridicule on the part of most Americans.

If there is a single concept unifying the diverse messages brewing in the “Occupy Wall Street” protests — and I’m not sure there is — it is anti-corporation.  How is closing down the National Air and Space Museum consistent with that generic message?  Do the protesters really think most Americans view the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and the space program as tools of an evil corporate culture — as opposed to, say, inventors and brave aviation pioneers and a proud example of what Americans can do when they put their minds to it?

Even if you consider the National Air and Space Museum to be a repository of artifacts of a greed-addled corporatist state, trying to occupy the museum is a stupid political decision.  I’ll wager that every tourist who was inconvenienced by the clash of the protesters with the museum security people is furious at the protesters.   If you’ve traveled to D.C. to take your excited 10-year-old to the Air and Space Museum to see the Spirit of St. Louis or touch the moon rock and the antics of a band of protesters has left you with a disappointed child on your hands, you’re not going to be likely to support the “Occupy D.C.” cause.

Let Them Protest — It’s The American Way

Protesters have been camping out and protesting in the Wall Street area of New York City for the last few weeks.

Some participants are protesting “corporate greed,” others object to the role of corporations in politics, and still others appear to be venting general anger and frustration about our economic problems.  Similar protests have occurred in other cities, too.  (The story linked above says “A group in Columbus, Ohio, also marched on the capital city’s street” — which makes our fair city sound like a one-horse town.  Hey, AP!  For the record, we’ve got more than one street in Columbus.)

I don’t blame people for protesting.  In my view, the Wall Street protests are a flip side of the Tea Party protests that started in 2009 and spawned significant grass-roots politicking.  The Tea Partiers dressed in colonial garb and the Wall Street protesters dress as corporate zombies, but both are expressing a deep concern, shared by many Americans, that the country is heading in the wrong direction.  The economy sucks, jobs are scarce, and nobody seems to be doing much about the problem.  The two groups’ proposed solutions to the problems are different, but the deep-rooted anger about the problems in the same.

The great thing about America is that the First Amendment allows the anger and frustration to be vented through peaceful protest, and the act of protest allows the protesters’ message to reach a wider audience.  If the protest strikes a chord with a sufficiently large segment of the population, as happened with the Tea Party, then stray protests can become a movement.  It remains to be seen whether the Wall Street protests have that kind of broad impact or staying power, but we’ll find out soon enough.  Until then, I say let them protest, and applaud their exercise of their First Amendment rights.