I protest!

Posted: Mar 07, 2002 12:00 AM
A typical conversation with my 4-year-old: “Daddy, you need to wear these shoes.” “Well, Richard, I’m already wearing shoes.” “Oh.” “Please put those shoes back in my closet where you found them.” “OK.” An actual conversation with a protester from the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support: “Ma’am, you can’t leave those shoes here on this desk.” “I’m giving you these shoes. You need to walk in our shoes before you can criticize us.” “Everyone here already has shoes to walk in, ma’am. You can’t leave those shoes here. Please take them out with you.” “OK.” Notice the similarities? You may be wondering why I’d bother speaking to a shoe-wielding protester. Well, she made it easy. She -- and a large group of other protesters -- came to me. They barged into The Heritage Foundation late in the afternoon on March 5, chanting and demanding to speak to one of our analysts. Some had megaphones, some earphones. Most didn’t really seem to know why they were here. Neither did we. As regular readers already know, I’m a big defender of the First Amendment right of free speech. So I have no problem with protests or protesters generally. However, what I’ve noticed about most large rallies in recent years is that the protesters don’t in fact have much -- or anything -- to say. They usually choose a nebulous concept like “globalization” and use it as a reason to gather, even though few of the protesters seem to know or care what they’re railing against. This group was really no different. Most were holding their hands up in the air and saying “Shhhhhhhhhhhhh” to each other. They probably needed to be able to hear what their “leaders” had to say, so they would know what to do next. So, to paraphrase Admiral James Stockdale, I was wondering: Who are they? And why are they here? Many of the protesters were wearing caps that said ACORN. Nuts? Well, maybe. But in this case it turns out they’re part of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. On their website, they have exactly one reference to The
Heritage Foundation. It’s a quote from a Christian Science Monitor story published last Dec. 24: “’We shouldn't be in the situation where we take any parent who legitimately can't find a private-sector job and say to them, 'You're over this time limit, so you're out of luck,' ‘ says the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector, who was a key architect of welfare reform. ‘It's much more compassionate if you have a universal work or constructive activity requirement. With that, time limits become almost ... irrelevant.’” Wow. I can see why folks would be stirred up about a universal work requirement for welfare recipients. No wonder they stormed the building! How about the protest organizers, the so-called National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support? According to their website, their goal on March 5 was, “to ensure that the poor, working class, and middle-class people of all colors in urban, suburban, and rural areas make our voices heard.” By invading a think tank? They’d have done better to hang out near Sen. Clinton’s office -- isn’t she still on a listening tour? Well, protesters, mission accomplished in at least one respect. On my way home from the office, I ran into the group of ACORN protesters again. I walked along with them, listening in on various conversations as they entered Union Station. I’m still not sure if they were planning to take over that building -- does ACORN have a thing against train travel? -- or if they were just looking for a bite to eat. Just before we parted, I heard an exchange that perfectly summed up the afternoon. One woman asked another, “Where are we going?” “I don’t know. I’m just following the crowd.” So true. So sad.