October 18, 2002

Brain Dump: The Chicago Media Watch PAC Downtown Chicago Halloween Walking Tour

In past pro-democracy protests I've taken part in, I've taken something of an outsider's role, making myself removed from the main center of action as a means of reaching out beyond the (often insular) circle of protesters, to talk to those or bring attention to those who might otherwise steer away from the protest. Not this time. I got right in the heart of things. I got my plastic sword, my eyepatch, my black hat with a jolly roger on it, and my sash with a jolly roger on it, and my best pirate impression ("Arrgh, ye scurvy scalawags. Arrgh."). I grabbed a protest sign ("Mass Media: Weapons of Mass Distraction"), a basket full of candy, a bunch of flyers, and some other goodies (details below) and joined some compatriots (a fellow pirate, an angel of the public interest, a big-lipped googly-eyed something, and a guy with weird hair) for a Halloween protest.

Oh, the things I do for democracy.

The protest sought to celebrate International Media Democracy Day and to condemn the FCC-led giveaway of public media resources to corporate profit- driven greedheads. A press conference at Columbia College was held right before the protest. The protest itself consisted of a spirited south-to-north walk through downtown Chicago, making stops at five media-themed locales: the local ABC and Fox affiliates on State Street, the Tribune Tower on Michigan avenue, the NBC tower just east of the Tribune tower, and the local CBS affiliate on Ontario Avenue.

At each stop, we made a small rousing speech against each respective media firm and briefly listed some of the rotten things they were doing in the Chicago area. Each speech was followed by a song borrowed from the MediaTank website and sung to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen". Here's an excerpt:

God Bless Ye Bold Commissioners. Deregulation Rules.
You abandoned public service. You're corporations' tools.
You ca-an't kill democracy. D'you think that we are fools?
No more ru-lings that just serve industry. Industry.
No more ru-lings that just serve industry.

The weather cooperated somewhat. The skies for much of the protest were cloudy, the temperature hovered around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and it drizzled sporadically. The revolution will not be televised, but the revolution might be called on account of rain.

If the protest, had a theme at all, it was one of giveaways: we were giving away flyers and appropriate candy (suckers, including Dum-Dums), and highlighting the FCC giving away public resources in the form of removing the last limits on corporate media ownership.

I also gave away an issue of FAIR's magazine Extra! to a guy I sat next to on the bus, and an issue of Adbusters to someone on State street. It wasn't all that I gave away. "Would you like a book?" I said to the young woman waiting by the CTA bus stop on State Street, holding a copy in my hand of "It's the Media, Stupid" by John Nichols and Robert McChesney. The look on her face was worth far more than the $10 I paid for the book. I gave her the book.

Another man on his way to the CTA red line saw me hand him a flyer and said, "But I don't want to be a pirate..."

Later, one white woman in a business suit and in a hurry and clearly not interested paid us no never mind. "Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting?" one of us said as she ignored us and walked on. The response: "Of course not. Why would you? You're white." I didn't get a good look, but I presume that was a middle finger she flashed back at us.

Mental note: Chicago security guards think protesters have cooties. "Would you like a flyer?" I said to one suited security guard. "Got one," he said falsely as he raced inside the building he was defending.

On Michigan Avenue, right south of the bridge, a large group of (I presume) high school students, mostly boys, raided my basket of candy. The teacher who chaperoned them heard me talk about our protest. I handed out some flyers too. Heck of a field trip.

Also on Michigan Avenue, at the Tribune Tower: Sometimes WGN-AM Radio broadcasts its radio talk shows from the showcase studios at the street level behind soundproof glass. Sure enough, Kathie O'Malley and Judy Markey, the WGN morning airheads, were in the showcase studios. Imagine them seeing a bunch of protesters in costumes holdings protest signs right at them.

During a commerical break, one of them (I don't know which one--they sound the same and I can't stand listening to them anyway) addressed us using a street- level PA-system: "Are you pisssed at us"?

The first thing that came to my mind is: "Holy shit! She swore!" This is squeaky-clean Kathie and Judy. They NEVER raise a fuss or, goodness forbid, swear. And goodness, one of those [expletive deleted] swore right at us!

When we told them what the protest was all about, the same responded "Oh, we have lawyers who handle that." Figures. Goodness forbid Kathie and Judy actually use anything between their ears.

We wrapped up the protest on Ontario in front of the local CBS affiliate. I joined one of my fellow protesters on a post-protest walk back to Columbia College, still in costume, posters still in hand. What followed may have been more successful and extraordinary than the protest itself.

We weren't in official protest mode, but when you're carrying protest signs and wearing goofy costumes, people can't help but notice anyway. They manager at the convenience store notices. The suit near the window in the CBS studios on Ontario certainly took notice; I waved at him, he waved back.

The clouds cleared. The weather warmed up to around 60. It was Noon by now, and with the lunchhour downtown swelled with people, including more than a few who took attention, and took flyers, and talked to us, and took photos, and talked some more, and took more photos. We weren't even TRYING.

I suppose there's a lesson in that.

EPILOGUE: I called in to WGN radio later that same evening, and got on Nick DiGilio's late night show. I gave him my review of "Bowling for Columbine" which I saw that evening (solid movie; go see it). I didn't mention the protest (a segue into it wasn't likely to come up, and I would have gotten cut off had I mentioned it), but I did talk about something that got short shrift in the media: Dave Grossman's excellent book "On Killing", about the psychology of killing and violence in the media (solid book; go read it).