Talking to protestors

Some sort of background should be provided to explain why I set out to test the waters of Protest culture. It begins with an amusing video, Protesting the protesters, put out by a group known as the Devil’s Advocate. The reporter in the video asked many poignant questions of the protestors at a New York rally to see what their reasons were for rejecting the administration’s causus belli.

After it became apparent that none of the protestors interviewed could deliver a sound answer, and the purpose of the video was to make a mockery of those protesting, some of the more left-leaning members of the Gauntlet staff, notably the pinko Opinions Editor James Keller, objected. James believed that the reporter had intentionally sought out those whom he knew would deliver uninformed answers, and that the vast majority of protest culture was far more aware of the issues than the documentary would lead one to believe.

An argument ensued. Several of us, myself included, thought that perhaps the majority of protestors were, in fact, unaware of the larger issues at stake, whilst James and his ilk believed that protestors were more informed on the issues than we believed. Of course such an argument cannot be resolved verbally, so we decided to actually go out and talk to protestors.

The first protestor we encountered along the march was a young man by the name of Alfred. Alfred had plenty to say about the war, including his belief that the United States had sold Iraq their weapons of mass destruction, and his interesting comparison between Kuwait’s drilling practices before the first Gulf War and those of Mr. Burns from the Simpsons. Like many in the march, Alfred believed that the U.S. was interested only in oil, despite his belief that American oil firms are still in Iraq from the previous war, which they may or may not have seized during the last visit by American troops.

Overwhelmingly though, the most common reply to my questions on the subject of Iraq was “I don’t know,” or variations of it. Alfred was a very friendly protestor, and I’m sure we could become good friends if we’d gotten to know each other a little more, but sadly, he didn’t know.

For the sake of open mindedness I next talked to the NDP group at the protest. Oddly enough, they didn’t claim the U.S. provoked the war to gain oil. Instead, they believe the U.S. stumbled into the war. Curious. I thought perhaps they might have an idea as to how the situation could be resolved, and apparently the U.N. is the answer, though no mention of how much longer the inspections should be given.

At this point, the protest had moved indoors to listen to speeches against Ralph Klein and U.S. unilateral action. I had to savour the moment of irony as a representative of Amnesty International stated that the majority of U of C students opposed the war, when only moments before Klein had been chastised for precisely the same sort of statement. As I chuckled to myself, the speeches continued, stressing the belief that Iraq is merely a testing ground for future world domination. Odd, but interesting.

This was the point when I was handed a dollar bill covered in web addresses which insinuated that the U.S. government was responsible for planning the attacks of September 11. I’d heard of people like this, crazies who thought the government was tracking them and listening to their phone calls. My mouth started watering with anticipation at my find. Sadly, the young man–who wished to remain anonymous–didn’t actually know anything about the flyers he was handing out, he simply thought they were cool. However, he did believe that the UN inspectors could have disarmed Iraq if given only a couple more weeks, but chose not to comment about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Oh well.

The most fascinating statement was made by the final speaker of the event. Apparently, there is great confusion among protestors as to the link between September 11 and Iraq. It seems as though they believe the U.S. is claiming Iraq was the cause, missing entirely the point of preventing further terrorism by curbing regimes which might supply terrorists in the future. Of course, I didn’t quite feel safe making this point among a crowd eager to lynch Bush in a “just and democratic” fashion.

Next, the speaker spoke of the media’s role in Iraq. The media, so the speaker claims, is undermining democracy by presenting biased views on the Iraqi conflict. There were also objections to the self-censorship exercised by some mainstream media outlets, to which a deep murmur behind me resp-onded that “[freedom of speech] goes both ways my dear.” Ahh, what would this university be without the poignant remarks of Gauntlet News Editor Вen Li? Next, it was claimed that all this information of media cover-up is widely available for all to see, and that the speaker had gathered all his information for his presentation from that morning’s paper. Curiouser and curiouser. It seems as though mainstream media, with foreign correspondents and the ability to talk to state actors themselves, is not nearly as capable of unbiased reporting as are the online publications put out by anti-war demonstrators basing all their information on who-knows-what source.

At the end of the day, I decided that while the protestors were helpful and nice, pinko James was wrong. If only I’d bet money on it.

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