Sunday, September 25, 2005

Initial Responses to Antiwar Rally in D.C.

First, the observations, then the hypotheses; the conclusions follow.

The rally/march/concert/speeches were mainly sponsored and organized by radical groups.  However most of the attendees were not radicals.  The antiwar aspect of the rally was merely the focal point, since the Iraq war was the most egregious of the alleged offenses perpetrated by the Administration. 

Several speakers at the rally before the march commented specifically on the diversity of the crowd, and made the explicit point that people do not all need to have the same slogan in order to get together for a common cause.  Several attendees made it clear that they had agendas of their own.  

One of the most frequent chants, and the one that energized the crowd most effectively, was "IMPEACH BUSH NOW;" nobody chanted, "CONVICT BUSH NOW."  Many of the people there dressed funny.

Most of the people there looked pretty normal.  Most had a protest t-shirt, or something like that, but otherwise looked like any pedestrian.

All of the events held so far (more events are taking place as this is being written), have been complex interactions between thousands of people.  I  think that any generalizations that could be drawn would necessarily be rather limited in their utility.

Different news organizations have reported on the events in various ways, covering some events but not others  Some were presented with a slant or a spin; others objectively.

What conclusions can be drawn from those observations?  A few hypotheses have been advanced in the Blogosphere (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 ).  Let us examine some of the hypotheses and see what conclusions can be drawn.

Does it "taint" the reputation of, or the points made by, the nonradicals, since the activities were organized by radicals?  (If a conservative student speaks up on a liberal campus, are her points less valid because the campus is liberal?  If liberals attend a conservative University, does that make the entire University more credible? Less? ) 

Does the diversity of those participating in the events mean anything? {If you need to move a sofa to a new house, is it necessary that all the people who help, be members of the same political party?  If they all have a common purpose, why can't they get together and cooperate for a little while?  The sofa still gets moved, even if Jane Fonda is carrying one end, while Donald Rumsfeld carries the other. (Stranger things have happened.)}

Does the variability in news coverage mean anything?

Does the fact that reporters sometimes do some of their writing before the event diminish the credibility of the reporting?

From my standpoint, the main general conclusions are these:

1. A bunch of people are pissed off at the Administration, and want the President and vice-President to be impeached and convicted, for a variety of reasons.  (But even the President and vice-President are entitled to due process under the law.)

2. Some people enjoy wearing funny clothes and getting their picture taken. (But the messenger is not the message.  Everyone knows that already.)

3. The media choose to cover (or not) various events in various ways.  Liberals think the media are too conservative; conservatives think they are too liberal.  I think the media outlets each have a little bit of their own agenda, and the rest of the variation is due to factors that are either random or trivial.  (One such factor is the fact that reporters have deadlines, as a result, they may do some of the writing before the event; each instance of this should be judged separately.)  Trying to draw meaningful conclusions based upon random or trivial factors can be fun for bloggers, but it is not particularly meaningful.  If there is a general conclusion to be drawn about this, it is that the media are not very reliable.  

People cannot sit back and expect information that is spoon-fed to them to be objective; they need to do their own research and their own analysis.  Hey, maybe we should try listening to what people actually said.  Or reading the text of Cindy Sheehan's speech.  

Start with the observations.

It turns out that there are few if any useful generalizations that can be made concerning the rally, or those who were at the rally, or those who have reported on the rally.   However, there was a lot of information presented at the rally; that is where are attention should be.

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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That's a thoughtful post. But as one who is not convinced by the anti-war rhetoric, but is open to a reasonable discussion about it, I find the presence of so many "radicals" at the microphone and the bullhorn off-putting.

Even if I know most of the people there were not as fierce as the leaders and speakers, I'd be concerned about a movement that lets the fringe rush the stage and hold it all day.

You might want to consider the ultimate goal of the rally: Was it to expose the already-converted to even more radical agendas? Then why make a media spectacle of it?

Or was it to convince the not-yet convinced that there's a good case to be made for -- immediate withdrawal from Iraq, impeachment, whatever it is that the rally is addressing.

It's an age-old problem for groups in this situation. Back in the '60s, was middle America turned against the Vietnam War by the antics of Abbie Hoffman, or by its own reflection on the casualty list and by institutions like Life magazine and Walter Cronkite?

If what I suspect is correct, and the hippie street theater made it more difficult, not easier, for straight-laced America to turn against its government, then why repeat the mistake?
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