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.