March 25, 2008

My Local Anti-War Protesters

By Jack Kemp (not the politician):

Over a week ago, I left my home to get lunch in a local Greek restaurant. In my neighborhood in New York, most every Saturday, a group of around ten anti-war protesters unfurl their banner and set up a table in front of the local Citibank. They are mostly in their sixties and a product of the Sixties as well. They dress casual but not too scruffy, like a group out for a bike trip in Vermont. Few neighborhood people stop to talk with them, just passing by their signs and occasional voiced slogans. That Saturday, I figured I'd be smart and avoid them altogether by walking down a different street to approach my lunchtime site. But...
 
Politics has a way of following me around. As some of you may have guessed, when I got to the restaurant and sat down, I heard the clear conversation of four of the protesters at a table less than fifteen feet away. They were three men and a woman, presumably a wife of one of them. I've never seen her or another woman protesting in front of Citibank.
 
What they said was informative, as they discussed the topics of the day: Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic primary race, and the Presidential election. They covered the travails of Mr. Spitzer and what how he hurt his family, the effect it would have on Hillary's chances, and sounded fairly reasonable and intelligent. As they got further into the conversation, one man mentioned that he was a Communist - and later said he had served in Vietnam as a soldier. He claimed, perhaps accurately, that body counts were done by small groups of US soldiers counting simultaneously as they walked a battle site, not marking the enemy dead, so double or triple counts of some North Vietnamese were common. Not surprisingly, he also mentioned the impressiveness of a war hero, John McCain, to the electorate, implying he would be a solid opposition candidate.
 
At one point, a waiter I know asked me to explain what exactly Eliot Spitzer did that was illegal. I mentioned the money transfers and also that his wealthy family and his sense of entitlement. The protesters/lunch group overheard me, yet chose not to engage in a conversation. They knew they couldn't assume that someone disdainful of Spitzer would automatically agree with their worldview. This middle-class neighborhood isn't Manhattan's Union Square in the 1920s. In fact, Union Square got relandscaped and yuppified to drive out the rampant drug dealers years ago.
 
Were these protesters changing hearts and minds, to use a Vietnam Era term, against the War in Iraq by coming to my neighborhood on Saturday? I doubt it - and I suspect they doubted it too. This appeared to be as much a social gathering for them, a type of outdoor club meeting where they relived the "glory years" of the Sixties, as much as anything else.
 
I once saw a sign in a Bronx candy store, many years ago - when there were candy stores with soda fountains. It read, "If You Have Nothing To Do, Don't Do It Here." That fits this situation to a "t."
 
Jack Kemp

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