August 16, 2003

Reflections on the Chicago Air and Water Show Protest: August 16, 2003

My last visit to the Chicago Air and Water Show took place two years ago. It could have gone better: Pouring rain, only three visible protesters, and I found myself unable to refute the argument that war helps create freedom of speech.

Not this year. Sunny skies (if trez hot). Dozens of protesters (one organizer told me that some 50 or more protesters and supporters were present throughout the day). And before I went to the protest, I studied up: I looked up the Espionage Act of 1917, the Smith Act of 1940, and the USA Patriot Act, all of which suggest that war doesn't create freedom of speech; on the contrary, each of these measures to constrict freedom of speech were passed during times of war (World War I, World War II, and the War on Terror/Afghanistan, respectively).

I got to the North Avenue footbridge around 2pm. I turned myself into a living billboard, themed to the media given its key role in our recent wars. I wore a Faux News T-Shirt. To my back I had taped a poster of the radio show This Is Hell. And a bright orange poster with two media related quotes. On one side: "The media: As liberal as the corporations that own them." On the other side: "We're listening to the news. We'll let you know if we find any."

This last quote puzzled one passerby who asked me, "We'll let you know if we find any WHAT?"

I had heard in advance that Viacom-owned WBBM Chicago newsradio would be broadcasting at the Show. I was hoping/envisioning that there would be a WBBM booth and people would be passing by and I would stand right in front of it (even if they wouldn't let me on the air) and try to embarrass WBBM with flyers, the sign, and chants ("Shame on BBM! Shame on BBM!") until either I got tired or until they called the police.

No dice. There was a booth, but access to it was guarded by two checkpoints. I made my way through one checkpoint, and at the second point I was told the WBBM booth is a private area (but they're using the public airwaves) and access was restricted only to those whose names appeared on a list. Yeah, whatever. Thanks a heap. I didn't waste their time, or my time, thereafter with this.

So, back into the crowd. Generally positive vibes from those who actually responded. ("Right on!" "You got that right!" "I like your shirt.") Only one negative response comes to mind, with dialogue seemingly inspired by Pee Wee's Playhouse.

Random Woman [to me as I'm holding up my sign]: Loser.
Me: Look who's talking.
Random Woman: Idiot.
Me: Chump.

I'm happy to say that I was able to deflate the only halfway-reasoned argument that came my way, which I entered midway through the argument.

Random Man: Things have changed 9/11
Me: Hey, that's what the terrorists said.
Random Man: You're not that well educated.
Me: Yeah, I must have imagined those two master's degrees.

As I left the protest, I went to the portion of the North Avenue footbridge on the west side of Lake Shore Drive. What I saw broke my heart. Litter, mostly consisting of flyers passed out by the protesters on the other side of the bridge.

Walking further: more waste, more heartbreak. A massive sound-stage-sized display courtesy the U.S. Army, with its racist "Army Of One" campaign which leads to litter of a vastly different sort. Our money, our soldiers. Since we declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, U.S. soldiers have been dying at a rate of about two per day in an occupation some 9,000 miles away that's costing U.S. taxpayers about a billion dollars a week.