Reason Versus Political Street Theater on the Public Dime, Dancing and Protesting


Being focused mainly on Rhode Island, I haven’t followed the intricacies of the national political war in a great degree of detail, but something sounded familiar in Paul Sperry’s New York Post essay, “How Obama is bankrolling a nonstop protest against invented outrage“:

Through social media, they mobilize flash mobs against “biased cops,” “climate-change deniers,” “Wall Street predators” and “gun extremists.” They hold rallies against conservative foes of gay marriage, LGBT rights, abortion and amnesty for illegal immigrants. …

They are protesters in search of an issue, agitators in search of a target. They aren’t even rabble-rousers so much as rubble-rousers picking through the charred remains of the last revolution.

According to Sperry, nationally coordinated progressive activist groups have significant ideological and operational “crossover” with Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, and it sounds exactly like the sort of movement that would target a retired police officer who delights in brightening the holiday season by directing traffic with dance moves and like the sort of power that would succeed in getting the City of Providence to cancel his seasonal work there.  It sounds even more like the sort of movement that would then have the wherewithal, on short notice, to gather 30 people to protest a community tree lighting in the next city over when it seemed Dancing Cop Tony Lepore had a chance to replace his lost gig.

Indeed, the apparent ringleader of the East Providence tree protesters, Onna Moniz-John, is hardly some incensed citizen expressing spontaneous outrage.  According to RIOpenGov, she retired as East Providence’s affirmative action officer in 2007, at the age of 59, and her fiscal year 2013 pension was $44,803.  The year after beginning her taxpayer-paid perpetual vacation, she became “a leader in Barack Obama’s Rhode Island campaign” and then volunteered with Providence Mayor David Cicilline’s successful campaign for Congress, leading Cicilline to bring her to Washington to meet the president.

Some on the political right think this sort of fire has to be fought with fire, but I’ve always been skeptical of that approach.  My primary reason for skepticism is that such activism tends to break down walls that we’ve constructed between politics and other aspects of our lives.  Choose a term — etiquette, aesthetic, comity — but part of what has enabled us to thrive as a nation is our sense of community and that participating in representative democracy is something that we do, not a source of rigid self definition.  Removing those walls is an apparent strategy of the Left, to make everything political, so adding more fire from the right only burns them more quickly.

Moreover, conservatives tend not to be the sort of people who would want to protest a family community event over a narrow, largely unrelated controversy.  Allowing everything to become political will transform our society into a winner-takes-all battle dependent on power and ruthlessness, and if we become more ruthless, then we trample what we set out to salvage.

The solution, then, is more etiquette and more consideration and honestly.  Look, Moniz-John, Black Lives Matter, and Obama’s Organizing for Action (for that matter) don’t likely care all that much about Tony Lepore, the Dancing Cop.  Their objective is to intimidate.  He makes an excellent example for others on the politicization of everything:  If you want to be able to participate in community activities — particularly if you want a high-profile, potentially paid role in them — you need to think before you speak your mind on the activists’ issues.

Even better, from their perspective, Lepore was to some extent using the Left’s techniques against them.  After all, despite the fact that he’s still able to dance while directing traffic, he retired from his job as a police officer at a young age, almost thirty years ago, and according to the City of Providence, his annual pension is around $37,000.  If he’d simply lived out his long retirement as an entertainer — or if he used his paid free time to protest causes on behalf of progressives — he’d have been living the Leftist dream.  They’d be showering him with honors, as they appear to be showering Moniz-John.

It’s disagreement that’s the sin, and being able to enforce their vision of virtue, as they have with Lepore, is why they want everybody lashed to the system.

The lesson for those who look at this fabricated battlefield of controversy and shake their heads is to lay it all out there so that reasonable people can continue to work out what’s reasonable.  Yeah, given his reliance on the big-government pipeline of Providence, Lepore would have done well to consider his reaction to Black Lives Matter, but, yes, Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration stepped with disconcerting ease into a gray area of the First Amendment.  And true, it was probably premature of East Providence Councilman-Mayor Thomas Rose to usher Lepore into a taxpayer-funded replacement gig without some preliminary public discussion, but, obviously, the flash-mob response was too aggressive.

With that all on the table, perhaps reasonable people can discover the areas of agreement that make us reasonable and maybe discuss whether we should impose a little sanity in how our community processes these areas of disagreement before they shake us apart entirely.

  • Mike678

    Bravo. Of course, it takes two to have a discussion. Many seem unable to rationally respond, preferring to rant and scream–actions similar to a poorly raised three year old.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Handing coffee cup to a policeman (even a retired one) marked Black Lives Matter, is clearly “contempt of cop”. That seldom produces a positive response.

  • Max

    Liberal bullying at it’s best with the cowards kowtowing to their liberal base. Did anyone really perceive Tony Lepore the retired dancing cop as a representing the views of the Providence Police Department? The flash-mob aren’t happy unless they get their pound a flesh and Elorza basically offered Lepore up on a silver platter.

  • Russ

    “Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration stepped with disconcerting ease into a gray area of the First Amendment”

    This is where Justin let’s his partisanship get the better of him. There’s no gray area there, although I don’t doubt that selectively quoting Pare can give that appearance. Elorza had little choice but to pass on bringing daily protests to the downtown shopping district. Justin may not care that protests would snarl Providence streets during holiday shopping, but I’m sure the merchants there disagree.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      I don’t see how the threat of protests matters to the First Amendment argument, unless the measure for abridging free speech is how much the mob will accept such speech. If (and it is an “if”) the administration would have been violating Lepore’s rights by firing him for his exercise of speech, then the fact that a mob would disrupt the city doesn’t legitimate the violation.

      Indeed, it only makes conspicuous how backwards your worldview is that you think free speech rights extend so obviously and thoroughly to people who would deliberately and actively “snarl” the streets in order to harm the merchants, workers, and tourists that others should be shut off from their rights. It’s just like that Mizzou professor I noted a few weeks ago who chastised the student journalist not to touch the “protesters” but then put his hands up and said “it’s not my problem” when the protesters touched the student journalist. Rules are always one-way with progressives, which means they aren’t rules at all.

      Making matters worse is the presentation. I would have been possible for Elorza to work with Lepore to find some way out of the sticky situation on an amicable basis and let both save face, but the administration made a point of emphasizing that it was taking the action not because of concerns about merchants or safety, but because of what he had said.

    • Mike678

      Really, Russ? Appeasement and bending to mob rule is never smart–it just rewards/encourages similar and perhaps more outrageous behavior. Nice strawman argument though–what protests? The threatened ones? Wouldn’t the police arrest them if they disrupted commerce? No, the so-called protests were nothing more than an excuse for the Mayor to demonstrate his support for the left–as well as his spinelessness.

  • Fred Gralinski

    Again the union runs the show. The Boss, Pare representing Mayor Elorza speaks with Police chief to have the officer sit with the coffee shop employee and manager but instead the Union orders the policeman around. With these public sector unions we do not have employees. Taxpayers are forced to subcontract public safety to the unions without the benefits of competitive bidding. The police and fire only do what the unions tell them / allow them to do. Management has no authority, just responsibility when these union members screw up. Sad but is why RI has always been run by mobs and gangs. Rogues island is just a corrupt dump!