There was a feeling of festivities in the streets of Boston as we
walked across Copley Square to pick up our credentials at the Westin
Hotel. Like New Year Eve’s Day, when people are packing in supplies
for parties, and the dozens of downtown stages are being set for the
Night performances and the artists are putting the finishing touches
on the ice sculptures in the Public Garden. Except, of course,
it is the middle of the summer. And the fact that we are surrounded,
on every corner, from every nearby roof and overpass, in parked cars
and patrolling above in helicopters and F-16s, by the forces or order.
Before we can even get to the hotel to pick up our Press Passes we are
confronted by a reporterly moment. As we come out onto the Square, we
see that it is awash in a thousand independent yet synchronized swirls
of yellow fabric. It takes a second to register, but it is indeed a sea
of inscrutable asians, easily identifiable to the reportorial eye as
members of the Chinese Martial Art/Philosophy/Sect Falun
Gong, due to
the smooth synchronization of their stylized moments, and the fact that
they were carrying huge red and gold banners reading FALUN DAFA.
There were at LEAST 5,000 of them in the sqyuare. They were behind
banner identifying them as being from Israel, Holland, Singapore, everywhere
else in the world. We stopped to ask one of them what was going
on, and she said that they were protesting the treatment of members of
their movement at the hands of the Chinese government.
Which brought to mind the question, why if all of the other homegrown
groups wishing to influence the opinions of the opinion-makers had been
the infamous "Steel
Cage", were the largest group of foreign protestors
being given the Red Carpet treatment, in the middle of Copley Square. Obviously,
they had applied for and been granted a permit for this huge demonstration. We
wondered if the Buddhists were by any chance major contributors to the
Democratic Party. We doubted that the Anarchists in the Black Tea
Society gave much this election cycle.
So no cage for the Gong Show, nor, it is beginning to appear, for most
of the other protest groups. Almost all have announced that they want
nothing to do with the Steel Cage, and will be doing their protesting
elsewhere, thank you. Where exactly that is going to be has not been
publicly announced, nor is it immediately apparent. Given the
tight utilization of space around the Fleet Center, and the even tighter
layers of security, it is hard to imagine an organized group of protesters
getting within shouting distance of an actual, live delegate.
Yesterday afternoon we wandered around back of the Fleet Center to get
our first up-close and personal look at the Protesters
Holding Pen. We
were not disappointed. Looking more like some high-tech slaughterhouse,
with double fenced chutes and narrow passageways to channel the theoretical
demonstrators past the huge empty parking lots where tour busses will
be off-loading the delegates each afternoon as they report for duty at
the Convention Center, it is hard to see the area as in any way affiliated
with free speech or the exercise of constitutional rights. It is a holding
pen, without water, electricity or toilets, better suited to animals
than human beings.
So where will the protesters go as an alternative? How will they
be able to congregate, demonstrate and march if every street corner and
rooftop are occupied by the forces of order which have announced that
they will tolerate no protests outside the Cage?
The Falun Gong suggest one possible option, and we are not referring
to donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party. Surprise,
unexpected protests are something of a Falun Gong specialty, ever since
the group originally came to the alarmed attention of the leadership
on the legendary morning of April 25, 1999. The Central Committee of
the Communist Party had been investigating the organization for months,
and had recently rescinded its licence as a sanctioned martial art,
supposedly because of the philosophical (some say religious) nature
of its teachings.
As the early morning fog lifted that April morning, horrified officials
of the Chinese Government were astounded to see that the entire headquarters
building for the Communist Party was surrounded by blissed-out, hand-holding,
chanting members of the Falun Gong movement. Over 10,000 Gongists
had assembled silently in the pre-dawn darkness. The most alarming part
was that the ubiquitous Chinese intelligence services had
not an inkling of the impending mass demonstration, and that it had
all be arranged quickly and silently, within 48 hours, via cell phones
The ability of this mysterious organization to quickly mobilize tens
of thousands of organized, disciplined demonstrators scared the bejeezus
out of the Communists, as well it might, given China’s history of periodic
upheaval at the hands of fanatical religious movements and cults.
We felt anticipatory shudders of possibility during the short fifteen
minutes of fame alloted to "Flash
Mobs" about a year ago. Remember
Mobs? Hundreds of participants would suddenly and simultaneously
arrive at a prearranged performance location, usually a busy city intersection
or inside a store or other public place, do some seemingly random and
bizarre act of Zen street theater, and then after a very few moments
melt away into the crowd or disappear into the urban underbrush.
An interesting phenomena, but as it seemed to serve no other purpose
than to get noticed and give a group of individuals who seemed to have
an excess of time on their hands something to do, it soon faded into
another half-forgotten phase of foolishness.
But what would happen, we remember wondering, if a political group started
using this technique to organize protests or demonstrations? Flash mobs
floating unseen through large crowds at major events, becoming organized
only at some
phone or wireless IM, performing an act of political protest or civil
disobedience, and then disappearing in seconds simply by stopping to
act in concert and blending into the background. How would the Forces
Order handle that?
If ever a situation called out for innovative methods of opening up
the political discussion and bringing to the attention of the general
public items which will not appear on the official party agenda, this
is it. The authorized avenue of public protest is criminally inadequate
and effectively shut down. Alternative sites for protest are off-limits
and closely patrolled. But
a Flash Mob Protest might have a chance of penetrating the public
the very least it would attract the press like flies.
Has anyone else been thinking along these lines? Is the moment ripe yet for the first Flash Mob political protest? It
would be a shame to think that the voices of dissent have been successfully
silenced by such a transparent and cynical ploy as arranging for them
to give their speeches in a concentration camp.