the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

October 15, 2005

Darkness and Light


Hello, y’all, this is my first posting here, so please be gentle. I promise not to swear too much like I do at home (so to speak), otherwise, there should be no surprises for anyone.

That having been said.

Murphy’s Law is an expression of frustration. Our memory tends to be inexact about what we’ve done right, and the ease with which we remember the very worst things about what has gone wrong is truly staggering. Murphy’s law is built on both this tendency, and on our very human need to find connections between everything. Keep that in mind through this little report, but I promise, it’s not going to be terribly difficult to spot the conflicts.

In the movie Malcom X, there is a scene from his time in prison where Bembry, a member of the Nation of Islam, gives Malcom an education in the cultural deconstruction of language. It’s one of my favorite scenes out of any movie, because the simplicity and clarity of the moment in the plot is beautifully echoed by Spike Lee’s visual framing (in many senses) of the culture, the words themselves, and the speakers. If you haven’t seen Malcom X, do it. If you have, then you know what I’m talking about.

The mall was a life-sized version of that today with the Millions More Movement gathering commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March. On the East side, near the capitol, a huge stage was set up with several JumboTrons (three, I believe) along the South edge of the Mall, with a few speaker towers spaced around the gathering - big professional speakers and power feeds. Nothing glitzy, every bit of technology there was for the sole purpose of making sure everyone could both see and hear the speakers. There were no “frills,” but the way someone who knows anything about tools can tell a Snap-On wrench just by picking it up (and if it’s the first time they’ve picked it up, they can tell it’s Different), I can tell you that these people paid for excellent equipment geared to a very narrow purpose - not fantastically expensive brand-name stuff that will play your songs and carry your voice and launch a manned mission to the moon - a well-designed, built, and maintained set of equipment for speaking to a large group of people.

I focus on this because it is an excellent metaphor for the way the entire event was structured - No frills, no garbage, no waste that I saw, it was a meeting for the purpose of revisiting a moment in history and attempting to build on it, as well as address the changes in the world that have affected the Black community. But there was minimal messing around of any sort, and though there were one or two people who were hawking sodas on the Mall proper, there were very few raised voices.

There were several speeches that I heard, but the one that I caught the most of was Louis Farrakhan’s. He was calling for a “United States of Africa,” that encompassed the Caribbean islands, North America, and Africa proper. My initial impression was that he was phrasing very radical ideas very peacefully and conservatively compared to how he’s been characterized. He was certainly more traditionally conservative in his approach than Dobson, Robertson, or any of their ilk. He did return to his oldest message, the need to organize, with a metaphor drawn from the buildup of Katrina: that the difference between a strength 12 tropical storm and a category 1 hurricane is the level of organization within the storm itself, and that the Black community needed to learn from this.

He did sound like he’d crafted his speech to address those outside of his typical audience (either that or he’s a LOT more mainstream than I’ve thought before), I actually blinked a few times when I heard him use the phrases “we have to think out of the box,” and “develop a new educational paradigm.” Much of what he talked about was economic self-sufficiency, and how to accomplish this. Part of his planned solution sounded like a free trade agreement between the Black community in the U.S., Africa, and the Caribbean islands. He included Venezuela in the latter group, I thought speaking of it almost as if it was suffering from a lack of power.

He also said that with the “…Black, brown, and poor organized, together, and powerful,” that “we can demand justice on behalf of the Native Americans.” He also alluded to the necessity of a political alliance with the Latinos. My initial impression was that he was speaking about them as if he were speaking of a less-powerful community, but that was a misinterpretation of his identifying them as also being an oppressed group of people in this country. He expressed a general contempt for the rich of any race, saying “why should we serve them, when we’re not serving ourselves?”

When he was speaking about the idea of reparitions, linguistically he was alternating emotional and logical appeal. While he very pointedly said “while it may not be you who are responsible [for slavery, Jim Crow, and the concrete effects of institutionalized prejudice], you certainly have benefitted from it” with little doubt in anyone’s mind as to who he was speaking to (an inarguable truth), Immediately prior to that, he had listed a series of things that “you have done” (the list in the brackets above). After his concise linking of past actions to present conditions, then returned to that direct accusation against a listener in the present.

Some of these things raised a badgery eyebrow, some didn’t, some I agreed with. Mostly I just scribbled.*

They were serious about security - let me rephrase that. They were serious about this being a peaceful event, and knew how to make it happen, as well as having the cooperation of what looked like all the attendees. Shortly after I sat down and started scribbling, the one disturbance I heard happened behind me, a man raising his voice in anger. Very quickly two conservatively dressed gentlemen I suspect were members of the Nation of Islam, two gentlemen in uniforms that I didn’t recognize (but may have been Viet-Nam era enlisted Air Force uniforms), and a park police SWAT team member quietly intervening. No violence, no bloodshed, no force, no arrests, everybody went about their business afterwards. The way it’s supposed to be, and the way it is if both sides can approach each other with respect.

I mostly saw members of the Park Police SWAT team actually on the Mall, and they were treated with deference and politeness - I saw not only no conflicts, but fewer hints of conflict than I would see at a similarly-sized crowd at a professional sporting event. This was every bit as peaceful as the United For Peace & Justice/ANSWER march on 9/26, but very dignified. It was a serious, almost somber crowd.

Now let’s turn to the West end of the Mall, and look at what’s there. The Solar Decathalon, a competition between different universities, challenging them to build a solar-powered house. It was very strange, the dirt, grass (mostly dirt, the grass had been beaten to dust by the end of the book festival on the 24th, and it can’t have recovered much) and gravel pathways covered with some sort of plastic tile. The houses, having been built by college engineering students, were strange looking, but I didn’t go inside any of them, just through the exhibition as a whole.**

On the way back from the White House, I noticed something dramatic. In front of the Museum of American History, there were four large vehicles I thought were worthy of note: Mobile command centers for the Park Police, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Metropolitan Fire Department, and the District of Columbia Emergency Management Agency.*** These weren’t present on the Mall on September 24th-26th. What, were they counting on the attendees of the Book Festival to keep the protesters away from Laura Bush back then? Or were they thinking that the environmentalists and the Nation of Islam were going to throw down over what exact type of stewardship they feel human race is supposed to take with the world and its resources? Doctrinal conflicts can get ugly, you never know. I’ll leave it at that.

What’s the message from all this? I have no idea. I’m not here to convey messages, I just report stuff with a touch of genuine outrage on the side (take it or leave it, as you prefer). If you want a summary of my thoughts, I’d say that the Liberals aren’t the only people who are seriously angry about this administration, and who are fed up with the Republicans. I am not very sanguine about the ability of any group to hang together right now. But I do know that Farrakhan got exactly one laugh, and it was as sincere and cold as it was quiet: He briefly touched upon the GOP’s attempt to frame themselves as the new champions of Black people, offering to protect them from the real oppressors (possibly the Democrats, probably anyone who isn’t Republican). There was a stony silence as he briefly paused, and his expression was one I instantly recognized: empty eyes, and a slight smirk that lasted only until he said “well, that’s very nice.” He said absolutely nothing else about the mainstream political parties, but I don’t think being conciliatory was on this crowd’s mind any more than it was among those marching against the Iraq War. Underestimating the radicalizing influence of the Shrub’s neglect, avarice, and ineptitude would be just plain stupid, especially as since it’s done such a good job of motivating us as well.

I apologize for this very incomplete report, and thank you for your patience. ^^

Here endeth the lesson, except for the endnotes.

* And was very, very annoyed that I missed Maya Angelou.

** I was on the way to the White House to see what was happening there (the answer to that being a little street theater by these people, as well as a few other protesters. My irony detector exploded when I crossed the middle of the Mall between the MMM gathering and the Solar Decathalon. I didn’t have another one handy, so I didn’t feel much like watching the performance, but it was fairly amusing.

*** The dramatic part wasn’t the vehicles, it was another detector exploding. The same one that goes off when when anyone in the Bush administration says anything at all. They blew up a few too, but I’ve kind of built up a tolerance to ShrubCo.


  1. Forgot to link to this earlier.

    Did my First entry over at DCDL, talking about what was going on on the Mall today. Er, yesterday. I tried to be as objective as possible… This time it was a lot easier than other events, mostly because lack-of-sleep…

    StealthBadger.net5:47 am, October 16

  2. Thanks for the report, SB. Welcome aboard!

    Some of us were talking about the MMM last night, but it was mainly about the craziness of Farrakhan and the problems the left has with its fringes (assuming Farrakhan even counts as being on the left — that’s the problem with describing politics in one dimension). I am curious to know whether you heard much about people believing the government blew up the levees in New Orleans. And presumably there was no mention of space aliens in Farrakhan’s speech?

    But an important point is that we shouldn’t treat the event as being about Farrakhan any more than the September 24 march was about ANSWER. The motivations of the participants may diverge greatly from those of the people on the stage.

    Keith7:09 pm, October 16

  3. I think it is worthwhile to ponder why it is that Farrakhan has been such a poweful organizer in the black community and why people like Dobson are so powerful in the white evangelical community. On a related note, why is it that leftists associated with hardline neo-communists (ANSWER) have taken the lead in organizing anti-war events?

    Is there something about being mentally unhinged that makes certain leaders/organizations more effective at organizing?

    As for my views on Farrakhan I think he is most appropriately classified as a racialist right-winger. It’s no accident that the founder and leader of the American Nazi Party (George Lincoln Rockwell) was invited to speak a NOI assembly by Elijah Muhammed.

    Jason Bradfield10:16 am, October 17

  4. Farrakhan has always been known politically as a Black Nationalist, which is as radically conservative (if that makes sense) as you can get. I think that the idea of economic self-sufficiency was appealing to the gathered people, but I suspect I missed the more popular (and reality-based) speakers. If the past month has pointed out any two things about the nation, it’s that we’re collectively in an ugly mood, and also a touch sick of demagogues.

    StealthBadger3:38 pm, October 17

  5. Yes, I shouldn’t have even suggested Farrakhan might be counted as “left”. But of course, some on the right think that anyone who’s anti-Bush must be on the left. That’s how David Horowitz is able to have a site about conspiracies between fundamentalist Islamists and feminist gay-rights supporters.

    And I see that Farrakhan got his information about the bombing of the levees from neo-Nazi radio host Hal Turner (via Orcinus).

    Keith10:32 am, October 18

  6. That Horowitz site is great, it makes me so much more optimistic the future. According to Horowitz leftists control the world.

    Jason Bradfield12:30 pm, October 18

  7. And I see that Farrakhan got his information about the bombing of the levees from neo-Nazi radio host Hal Turner (via Orcinus).

    Wow! I missed that!

    That must have been when I was trying to figure out what the plastic stuff was that the Solar Decathalon covered all the pathways on its side of the mall with.

    StealthBadger12:53 pm, October 18

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