Peaceably to Assemble…

Last Friday, I walked past the Convention Center en route home from work.  This past weekend, it hosted Ohayocon ’11, a convention celebrating Japanese pop culture (anime, manga, etc.).  A co-worker was waiting at the bus stop when I told him I was going to hoof it home, and he walked with me for a few blocks, until I turned east on E. Goodale by the Church of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral.  We passed by quite a few people who were at Ohayocon (many of them Anglos) and they were all dressed in many different shades of bizarre.  (I always got a crack out of going past the Convention Center during Marcon–Multiple Alternative Realities Convention–when I saw Darth Vaders, Klingons, and C-3POs standing outside smoking.)

Bizarre as the costumes and hairstyles of the people from Ohayocon were, I’m glad that no one seemed to be hassling them or giving them a second glance.  There are usually no shortage of people who think the First Amendment’s “right of the people peaceably to assemble” only applies to their particular group, party, religion, or political philosophy.
Unless there is an out-of-the-building errand, I spend my lunch hours in the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation library on the third-floor mezzanine of the William Green Building where I work.  I either sit inside and read The Wall Street Journal or The Dispatch, or else I’ll sit at the little table outside the doors and read, write in my diary, or doze.  Two years ago this week, I was sitting at the table with my journal, and I heard a middle-aged guy on a cell phone, pacing the floor and obviously looking not very happy.  I heard his end of the conversation (whether I wanted to or not, and he wasn’t make any effort to conceal it), and found that he was on the phone to the Holiday Inn in Worthington.  He was complaining because the Holiday Inn was hosting the Winter Wickedness Perversion Fest.
He was an ordained minister, he said (at least twice), and kept asking if they would have hosted “the Kyoo [sic] Klux Klan” if they were wanting to hold an event.  He talked about how he was going to boycott the hotel in the future (an empty threat if you live in Central Ohio) and urge other people to do the same.  I felt sorry for the minimum-wage desk clerk unfortunate enough to have caught this call.
The fact that he mentioned that he was an ordained minister two or three times, and spoke loudly enough to be heard by the whole mezzanine made me wonder how much time he spent meditating on Matthew 6:1: “Be careful not to make a show of your religion before men; if you do, no reward awaits you in your Father’s house in heaven.”
The Winter Wickedness Perversion Fest was a gathering of people who realized that sex was for something other than procreation, and have quite varied ways of expressing sexuality.  I don’t personally know the man who was so irate about the hotel’s hosting this, but I played amateur psychiatrist and wondered if his displeasure boiled down to “and damn it, they didn’t invite me!”  (After all, if you need to locate a militant anti-gay rights crusader, the first place to look is usually in a Roadside Rest or public park men’s room.  And it requires a computer to chronicle all the Republican and fundamentalist Christian leaders who are serial adulterers and divorced multiple times.)
I’ve seen protests over movies.  The Colony Theater in Marietta, for many years, showed soft-core porn movies on Friday and Saturday nights, and when I was in high school, they inaugurated this with a showing of Oh! Calcutta!, wanting to launch the porn showing with an artistic bent, I suppose.  Naturally, a large contingent of religious fundamentalists were protesting, one guy bringing his German shepherd, carrying a sign that said, “I wouldn’t take a dog to see this movie!”  What I didn’t see was anyone pointing loaded weapons at them and forcing them to see the movie.  This was a precursor to the people who would protest The Last Temptation of Christ, mostly people who lacked the insight or literacy to actually read the novel or see the movie, and understand that it was/is a highly moral movie.  French fundamentalists showed their love of Jesus and his message in 1988 by throwing Molotov cocktails into a Paris movie house during a showing, injuring 13 people and severely burning four of them.  Who would Jesus bomb?
I’ve struggled with the issue myself.  In November 1982, I took my first vacation since moving to Boston, since The Crimson was on hiatus for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I took a Greyhound down to Washington, D.C. and stayed in the youth hostel on Eye St., NW.  I made my usual pilgrimages–Ford’s Theater, the house where Lincoln died, the graves of JFK and RFK, the Smithsonian, etc.  The hostel was in Franklin Square at that time, and I began seeing “DEATH TO THE KLAN” posters on walls, fences, and trash cans all over the District.  I gleaned from what I heard on the street and what appeared in The Washington Post there was supposed to be a Ku Klux Klan rally that Saturday.  (In case the person mentioned in the fourth paragraph reads this blog: Please note the pronunciation of the first word in their name!)
I went to be a part of the protest, although I didn’t go there with “death to the Klan” in mind.  Unlike the majority of the protesters, I never questioned the Klan’s right to be there and to march.  As despicable as they were, the law that allowed Vietnam War protests and the March on Washington to take place covered them as well.  I would be there to let them know what I thought of them.  (The march was the brainchild of pro-Soviet Trotskyist loudmouths known as the Sparticist League, a self-styled “revolutionary communist” group.) I was troubled when I saw one guy yammering on about how he was going to get a Klansman’s head stuffed and hung in his recreation room.
Since the Klan never appeared, the crowd who had arrived there loaded for bear, and spoiling for a fight, went wild, breaking shop windows around Lafayette Square and the White House, and charged across Pennsylvania Ave. into Lafayette Square.  Pennsylvania Ave. was still open to through traffic at that time; this changed after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.  I saw a man driving a car which contained his wife and two young children.  They were in Washington as tourists, and wondered just what the hell they had stumbled into.  The man turned his car from 17th St. NW onto Pennsylvania, near the Old Executive Office Building, and I saw a man very deliberately march over to their car and put his fist through their back window.
Crossing over into Lafayette Park, the protesters rioters went after the police, who had lined the streets with sawhorses and dressed in full riot gear.  I was not going to pick up any type of projectile, but I was barely in the park when I felt something whoosh past my right ear.  I realized just how bad the situation was when I noticed it was a chunk of cement the size of a softball.  Had it been one millimeter in the other direction, I would have been the recipient of some massive brain damage.
But I didn’t have the time to contemplate that, because the wind shifted and a massive cloud of tear gas blew right into my face.  For a second, it felt like my face was on fire.  My dad told me about basic training when he was in the Army, when he and his fellow privates were confined in a Quonset hut that was flooded with tear gas, before they were allowed to put on their gas masks.  Tear gas is made from the active ingredient in onions, and my first instinct was to wipe my eyes.  Two women pushed me onto a bench and made me sit on my hands until my eyes stopped burning.  They told me I’d be rubbing it into my eyes deeper.
The Sparticists (their official name is the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)) who were so eager to organize a riot against the KKK were too young to remember that it was not so long ago that membership in their organization meant no driver’s license, no government employment, no veteran’s benefits (even if honorably discharged), no bonding for jobs (which meant not even work flipping burgers, because you need to be bonded if you’re handling customers’ money), and other prohibitions.  Communist organizations were so heavily infiltrated by the FBI that several cities had cells comprised totally of agents!  (The running joke among leftists was, “How can you tell the FBI informant at a Communist Party meeting?  He’s the only one who ever pays dues.”)
I have zero interest in football, college or professional.  That doesn’t mean that I want the pre- and post-game craziness around High St. that happens on Saturdays all fall to stop.  I know better than to venture into that section of town after a game, especially if the Buckeyes were victorious, but I would never deny them the right to gather to celebrate a victory.  (During the 1970s, Columbus police dealt much more harshly with protesters against the Vietnam War than they did with football revelers, and the post-game crowds usually caused much more property damage.)