Thursday, January 11, 2007

Is Silence Indeed Violence?

This morning hundreds of New Orleanians are preparing to march to city hall to demand more intrusive surveillance and regulation of the behavior of the citizens. It's an unusual cause for a public demonstration. In most cases one would expect citizens to take to the streets in opposition to government encroachment on freedom or in order to affect change on behalf of the powerless or to give voice to the voiceless. Today, however, we will hear the voices of the empowered.. the bourgeois, the professionals, and others who either have.. or aspire to have a stake in respectable society. They will lend their respectable voices to the argument that their government is not doing enough to encroach on individual freedom... which they see as a direct threat to the security of their... stake. Again.. this is not the usual cause for acts of civil disruption in history although it's not entirely unheard of. There are indeed times when the haves feel threatened enough by the have-nots to demand a more repressive approach from their government. The famous anti-integrationist "cheerleaders" or perhaps your average pogrom comes to mind.

The marchers seem to be aware, on some level at least, that their movement is one of "respectable" types and in fact seek to communicate that fact through dress. I've read several examples this week but here's Maitri on the subject.
I will be there in my corporate garb to show that not just “disgruntled hippies,” “union workers” and “underemployed artistes” take to the streets with picket signs in the call for change.
God forbid anyone involved be erroneously associated with "disgruntled hippies" or "union workers". Earlier in the week, I generated a considerable amount of ire by terming this the March of the Yuppies. I have subsequently seen nothing to disabuse me of that notion.

As all pro-repression movements need a good pro-repression slogan... preferably one that shames and discourages independent thought or action... the yuppie marchers have come up with a whopper. Their rallying call today is "Silence Is Violence" The implication is that.. if you are not a participant in the March of the Yuppies, you are a co-conspirator to violent crime. It's kind of a "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists" approach. It's ugly. But just for the sake of argument, let's play that game for a minute.

I noted yesterday that it is remarkable that it is crime that has finally sent the citizenry into the streets. Post-Katrina New Orleans has provided ample opportunity for rabble-rousing. HANO and HUD have decided to bulldoze viable housing developments in New Orleans. These developments were home to scores of the city's poorest citizens who through no fault of their own were forced from the city by the Federal Flood. There is no plan to return the displaced and dispossessed to their homes. Are the yuppies marching to protest this injustice? Does their silence constitute an act of violence upon these victims of the flood? State and city officials have shamefully dragged their feet in addressing the urgent need for indigent health care in New Orleans after the abandonment of Charity Hospital. Have the yuppies marched on city hall on behalf of the poor and the sick? Is their silence akin to violence against these people? There are widespread reports of abuse, fraud and squalor among the transient labor force currently performing much of the "dirty work" of rebuilding the city. Where are the yuppies? Every now and again, they might enjoy a delicious taco from one of the trucks that have shown up around town. Is their silence an act of violence against these migrant workers?

Need I go on? Or can we at least agree that if I have misgivings about your march that I am not in fact a criminal? As I have predicted time and again this week, the mayor and the chief of police are co-opting the March of the Yuppies and claiming it as a ringing endorsement of their policy of randomly detaining and searching citizens and placing cameras in all possible public places. In this case action (marching with the mayor) is not preferable to inaction. Silence is not violence.

Update: Early indicators are the the marchers have successfully provided the mayor with a new excuse for ignoring the city's myriad problems. He now promises to focus "solely on crime."

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