Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's a PRO-test -- by Josh

Not to make light of the protests that are starting to fire up here in San Francisco, but I have to share something Rebecca was told today. A friend was driving down a main thoroughfare that is known for wild protests and had to turn around. Not because they were already striking, but because they were in the midst of prepping for the strike by filling the street with garbage, stones and tree branches (one of the common tactics for combating police).
I was like, finally some forethought and strategic preparation, but for the sake of civil unrest! Why can't this type of planning be shown in some other spheres?
I've heard lots of things about the "strikes" that go on here, which is a way of life for many in San Francisco de Macoris.  It's said that it's all a game, with the leaders of unions and opposition groups employing what are essentially professional protesters to cause havoc until the government will throw some money their way.  These supposed freedom fighters make a mess of the city in the name of social progress, creating a few days of chaos during which groups of masked and hooded hoodlums have their way with the poorer parts of the city.  How this is helpful to the impoverished and under served populations is beyond me.
My eyes and throat are stinging from the tear gas in the air, even though the closest clashes are several blocks away. I would love to know what the city's tear gas budget looks like, though, because we can hear one canister after another being fired off.  It's slightly taxing as well, making me feel sluggish.  My point is not to lament my plight, however, because we've got it good.  The poorer barrios are where the tear gas is being fired, and those houses must be filled with this horrid stuff.
It reminds me of a story a friend told me last year, of something that happened on her block.  The police and the protesters were having at each other, exchanging rocks for tear gas canisters, bullets for bullets, when a desperate woman stormed into the middle of the street. Standing between the two groups, she screamed at them, imploring them to stop their nonsense because her baby couldn't breathe. And whaddaya know, they all left!
Such stories of humanity don't outweigh the stupidity, yet it is this innate humanity that somehow keeps things together.  I thought about this during past strikes, how the city is essentially taken over by thugs for a couple of days, who break into people's homes and businesses and rob anyone crazy enough to wander the streets after dark.  About a year ago, Rebecca and I were watching a movie in the living room on the first night of a similar two-day strike when we heard a loud BOOM, followed by another, then the sound of a motorcycle racing off. I glanced outside after a minute and the street was abandoned and quiet, an eerie rarity in our extremely loud and vivacious neighborhood. The next morning I took out the garbage and chatted with Don Ramon, marveling at the front gate that had a big, whitish hand print with a bunch of buckshot dents just above. My assumption is that the police saw someone messing with our gate and did what police do during such a night.  CSI has yet to show up to check the prints.
So, I'm forced to ask, given evidence that at any given moment the city could become Gotham under Bane, what is it that prevents that? I read that during the first day or two of the Rodney King riots, the LAPD essentially cordoned the area off and waited for things to calm down. That's crazy, and shows that the authorities don't really have control. So, who does? Why don't our cities melt down into chaos? And why don't we show more of whatever social restraint prevents that?
My final thought on the topic is that although these protests are theoretically brave gestures aimed at raising up the common man, the opposite takes place.  There are a few different groups involved that represent a numerical minority: 1) Corrupt and incompetent politicians who anger the populace in the first place; 2) Union and opposition leaders and members; 3) Police who get paid jack squat to battle with their equally poor neighbors; 4) Thugs who take advantage of the distracted police force.
The missing, and most important, element is the rest of us, the generally sane residents and business owners and parents who simply want a safe and positive environment. These are the people driven from the conversation by the actions of extremists.  The result appears to be apathy; keep your head down and keep on keepin' on.  But it is this group that needs to engage most and show that there is a different way, that change can and does happen through grass-roots community solidarity and action.
I guess it takes more valiant men and women, like the lady who'd had enough and confronted the forces of chaos to protect her baby.  It's time for the regular people, in the Dominican Republic, in the USA, in Egypt and Mali and everywhere else to take back the conversation and guide our own destiny. It's time.

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