I make a deliberate effort not to come off as the blasé New Yorker who’s seen it all, because I think that can be obnoxious if it’s overused, but with respect to these demonstrations, a lot of people are making a very big deal out of something that I consider almost an everyday, ordinary occurrence.
Protests and demonstrations happen all the time, all over the world. In New York we get rather a lot of them, and as a result they rarely make the news unless there’s some kind of specific incident.
For example, in New York we’ve had a history of issues with one particular group. Two years ago there was a relatively high-profile altercation with police, where a police officer assaulted a demonstrator and then lied about it, but the incident was caught on video and the cop ended up getting convicted of falsifying information on a criminal report. If you look in the news, or on the group’s Wikipedia page, you can find a long list of demonstrations that have blocked traffic and disrupted daily life for some people and ones that have led to mass arrests and legal battles. The group that I’m talking about is called Critical Mass, and yes – they are a worldwide bicycle advocacy group.
Yeah, you read that right. Bicycles. Not revolution, not regime change, not the Arab Spring – just a bunch of sweaty dudes in spandex shorts and camelbacks stirrin’ up some shit.
And then there was that one summer when there was a Free Palestine rally at Union Square like every day – or is that still going on? – and of course the 2004 RNC protests (also involving Critical Mass, btw) and these are only some of the ones that I’ve noticed, but google helps you find many, many more. There are rallies and protests and demonstrations all the time, is what I’m saying, and none of them are really all that important to my daily life.
And don’t let me forget about the Crown Heights riots. I lived a few miles away from Crown Heights at the time, and there was actually tangible tension in the air. I remember my parents worried that the violence would spread into our neighborhood – didn’t happen, fortunately for me, but those were some rough times to be living in New York, especially for the couple of days when people were actually looting and setting shit on fire and stuff. In a way, that situation grew out of a protest or a sense of outrage at how our leaders were handling issues that affected our community.
So Tbilisi… yeah. You have a few tens of people camped out on Kostava street, and that one demonstration in Freedom Square that gathered six or seven thousand people – and of course you have to wonder how many were there because of deep dissatisfaction with Georgia’s President and how many were just there out of boredom or curiosity. The Saburtalo guys managed to get into a fight with ridiculous plastic batons – and if you see the video of them “attacking” the police car it reminds me of nothing so much as that Georgian sword dance where the men strike at each other with lightning speed but every blow is deflected and nobody wins the battle or even gets hurt.
By which I mean it’s all for show. Protesters hitting an unmarked car with plastic toys. Police firing rubber bullets into the air and tear-gassing an empty street just to let everyone know that they have rubber bullets and tear-gas. People camping out on the street on a series of beautiful sunny spring days – one good rain would wash this whole ridiculous spectacle away.
I’ve seen more Georgian riot police at a rugby came against Canada than there were at either one of the demonstrations. The point is, nobody seems to be taking this very seriously – certainly not as seriously as we’d take a group with real influence and organization, like those hardcore bicycle rights activists – except of course for the sensationalist media whose job is to make EVERYTHING SEEM LIKE OH MY GOD WHAT A BIG DEAL HOLY FUCKING SHIT.
And of course the geniuses in the media want to draw the inevitable Arab Spring comparisons, as if a fraction of a percent of Tbilisi’s population showing up and milling around for a couple of hours in Freedom Square before going home to dinner is even remotely comparable to a series of mass, weeks-long nation-wide uprisings despite the threat of harsh military retaliation; as if Georgia’s President serving out his last term in an office to which he was freely, legally, constitutionally elected by the people is functionally equivalent to a military dictator who maintains power with the support of the army and the secret police by operating in a state of emergency in which freedom of speech and association are illegal.
Anyway, this is not the Arab Spring. Georgia is not going to have a revolution. The media isn’t necessarily quick to point this out, but the opposition in Georgia is splintered and the funniest thing about this protest for me is that the top eight opposition parties are refusing to participate. Yes – again, you read me right – the top *eight* aren’t even involved in this. Talk about a fraction of a faction.
So yes, traffic in Saburtalo is a little bit fucked (because there’s one major traffic circle that routs traffic for like half the city, and one of its arms is basically cut off) but other than that, this whole protest thing just doesn’t have any legs.
So yeah… no worries here. Of course, tomorrow is the supposed “Day of Rage” so we’ll see where that goes. I may eat my words, but I doubt it.