Monday, April 2, 2012

Marches, Men and Maniacal Managers

Those who remember Herb Caen will recognize this as “three-dot journalism”.

I wanted to write something about the Global March to Jerusalem

This extraordinary series of (mostly) nonviolent direct actions, which took place on Friday, was an ambitious multinational organizing drive that began at least eight months ago, an effort to give voice to the millions of Palestinian refugees –inside Israel and the Occupied Territories, in refugee camps in the Arab world and in exile around the world – who are in danger of being forgotten and finally robbed of their inalienable right to return home. The date, March 30, is known in Palestine as Land Day. It commemorates the 1976 killing of six Palestinian Israelis by Israeli police, and is dedicated to the national unity of all Palestinians everywhere.

I’ve known about the march from the beginning, and I also knew that it was fraught with controversy and conflict. Having had enough of that kind of bickering in my activist life. I decided to wish everyone the best and continue with the work I’m already doing – primarily on boycott, divestment & sanctions (BDS).

By some accounts the Land Day marches were a huge success, by others a dismal failure. One young man was killed in Gaza, an eight-year-old shot in the eye in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, and the New York Times reports that “Security troops in riot gear were out in large numbers, using rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons filled with putrid green liquid and high-pitched noise machines.”

The best thing I found articulating the goals and aspirations of the march was by author Ghada Karmi, in AlterNet:

Global March to Jerusalem: An Act of Homage to a City in Danger

On March 30th a ground-breaking event will take place. I had not expected it would ever happen when I first heard about it. While teaching at the Summer University of Palestine last July in Beirut, I met a group of Indian Muslims taking the course. They told me they were organising a people’s march to Jerusalem to bring to the world’s attention to Israel’s assault on the city’s history and culture, and its impending loss as a centre for Islam and Christianity. They explained how they and their friends would set out from India, drawing in others to join them as they passed through the various countries on their way overland to Israel’s borders.

They seemed fired up and determined, and I could not but admire their zeal and dedication to try and rescue this orphan city which has been abandoned by all who should have defended her. But I thought their ambitions would be thwarted by the harsh reality of trying to implement their dreams. It would never succeed, I thought, but I was quite wrong. The movement they and their fellow activists spearheaded, called the Global March to Jerusalem (GMJ), is now in its final stages. A distinguished group of 400 advisers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nobel Laureate, Mairead Maguire, are promoting the GMJ. The marchers will head for Jerusalem or the nearest point possible on March 30th.  Read the rest

As I was reading the Karmi piece, my eye drifted inexorably to an ad on the right-hand side of my screen. Below the photo shown here, the headline read:

The 4 Dangers Destroying Men Today

The ad did it’s job. I had to click on that link. Here’s what I learned:

I have some bad news for you today...

“I'm not sure if there's a conspiracy behind it but these dangerous trends have been robbing you of the vitality, zest and success that you truly deserve...”
Okay, this ad wasn’t directed at me. Still, I found it pretty interesting. At least one of the dangers was not feminism. The point was that various environmental forces are lowering men’s testosterone, and that in turn lowers their chances of conquering the girl in the picture. The author promised men “today I'm going to show you why and deliver and ton of free information on how to take charge of your life and get to the top…while feeling healthier, stronger and much more confident…” It’s kind of the Tom Cruise character in Magnolia brought to the micro screen.

Part of the advice:  "Let's get started by going back in time to our Neanderthal days..."

What I'd like to know is, by what algorithms did that end up as a companion to my perusal of AlterNet?

Despite years of gentrification, AIDS and assimilation, the Castro remains the center of Gay San Francisco. A couple months ago, a member of QUIT! (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) reported that Cliff’s Variety, one of the fixtures of Castro Street, has a big display of SodaStream, the home seltzer maker manufactured in the illegal Israeli settlement of Mishor Edomim (the industrial zone attached to Maale Adumim, in East Jerusalem). We approached the housewares buyer and explained about the international boycott of SodaStream and asked Cliff’s to drop the product. The buyer, after reading the material we sent and doing some research of his own, informed our representative that Israel “seemed to be operating within legitimate occupation” and anyway, the product is very popular and they are not political.

So yesterday, we set up a table outside Cliff’s, armed with information from the website “Who Profits” run by the Coalition of Women for Peace. We passed out fliers and asked those who expressed interest to give the cashier a coupon letting them know that they would like them to drop SodaStream. Many people were determinedly apathetic, as we’ve come to expect, but quite a number stopped to chat. All was very amiable for about fifteen minutes, and then the manager came out. She told the person handing out leaflets that she couldn’t stand by the door, because that’s their property, but had to move farther away. This we expected and Deni obligingly moved out to where we had set our table, even with the parking meters and bike racks.

Then the manager said that we could not have a table unless we had a “street use” permit. This I was 98% sure was not true, and I said so. She insisted that it was. Lisa explained that the permitting process only applies to people who are selling on the street, not free speech activities. When she didn’t go away, we suggested she call the police. She was clearly surprised by that –no doubt the threat of calling the police was going to be her trump card. She said, “Well, if that’s how you want me to handle it, I will.” Five minutes later, an unassuming policewoman showed up. She didn’t speak to us right away, but went into the store. When she emerged, she explained that the owners wanted us off of their property, which extends to the curb, that they are responsible for maintaining the safety of their sidewalk, and we were interfering with their business. I said we were not hurting their business, but even if we were, I was pretty sure the law allows us to do that. She said she would call her sergeant and find out.

A few minutes later another policewoman arrived in a car, and a little later, the male sergeant got there. The sergeant went into the store and the other woman stayed outside keeping an eye on us. They were there for quite a while, while we continued to talk to customers and anyone else who were willing to talk to us. A surprising number of the people who came by said they were visiting from Canada.

About five minutes before we were planning to pack up, the cops came out. The first woman who talked to us said we should listen carefully, because she was going to tell us that she was wrong, and that’s not something you hear cops admit very often. She said in fact, we had the right to have our table there, we just couldn’t block the door or the sidewalk. We said that was fine, we hadn’t and we wouldn’t. The other woman, who was for some reason much more hostile, yelled at Deni that she had seen her having conversations with people on the sidewalk, forcing people to go around them. I pointed out that people stop and talk on sidewalks all the time. She said that was true, but if we did anything Cliff’s didn’t like, they were going to call the police back. The police finally left. We stayed for another fifteen minutes, and Deni used her “teacher voice” to call out to Cliff’s shoppers, “We’re asking Cliff’s not to carry SodaStream.” Hard to believe that’s less disruptive to their business than letting us stand quietly in front of the door leafleting, but there you have it.

Of course, all that hooplah made us feel much more effective than we would have if we were just standing there for an hour with most people ignoring us. When we were done leafleting we went for a beautiful walk in an area called Corona Heights. A lot of work has been done to reclaim the land and make walking trails – surely a much better use of public money than having three cops protecting Cliff’s from three middle-aged women leafleting for half an hour.

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