Published on Friday, August 20, 2004 by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For Those who Protesteth Too Much -- Discounts!
by Tony Norman
Because New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a billionaire, it stands to reason that he believes everyone and everything has a price. Given the evidence of the corruption that courses through the bloodstream of the American body politic like herpes, he may be right.
In anticipation of protests and the threat of massive disruption to the Republican National Convention in two weeks, Mayor Bloomberg wants to make local and visiting dissidents an offer they can't refuse: discounted tickets to "Tony & Tina's Wedding" along with vouchers for Applebee's.
But Mayor Bloomberg didn't become a self-made billionaire by not knowing the value of things. He's making all of the discounted goodies contingent upon a willingness to keep political dissent peaceful, out of sight and at a volume easily drowned out by the beeping of patriotic cab drivers.
While such a scheme brings new meaning to the term "sellout," it's consistent with a cynical belief that every problem has a market-driven solution.
You have to love Mayor Bloomberg. Only a billionaire would be optimistic (read: silly) enough to believe that anyone planning to protest a divisive administration could be bought off for the price of a Big Onion Walking Tour of the city and a free mug from the Gotham Comedy Club.
"It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach," Bloomberg said, mocking Napoleon's insistence that an army "travels on its stomach." He then announced the benefits of never leaving home without a "Peaceful Political Activists Savings Card" at a news conference.
The card and a list of places where protesters can exchange their consciences for a pittance can be downloaded from www.nycvisit.com (no doubt including a certificate for a complimentary "666: The Number of the Beast" tattoo redeemable at all participating parlors).
Lest we forget, Esau sold his birthright for a pot of spicy lentils. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Still, few of the expected 200,000 dissidents who'll jockey to get within spitting distance of the coronation of George W. Bush will settle for protests heavy in quiet desperation in exchange for $5 off the admission to the Museum of Sex.
With its "rewards" for "good behavior," Bloomberg's "Peaceful Political Activists" program is a satire of America's revolutionary values. We should fear for the soul of this country if it catches on and protesters trade righteous indignation for 15 percent off the check at Agozar!
Imagine how American history would've turned out if only King George had been clever enough to distribute free biscuits to the rebels who instigated the Boston Tea Party. If Bull Connor had initiated one "Negro Night" a month at Denny's in exchange for a promise from Martin Luther King Jr. to limit his Birmingham protests to the outskirts of town, the civil rights movement would've died in its infancy.
To offer bribes to limit protests is to misunderstand the morality of American dissent. It's hard to know whether such offers stem from cynicism or stupidity, though it hardly matters.
In Boston, the Democrats dropped any pretense of "welcoming" protesters. They restricted dissidents to an area behind a high fence next to the Fleet Center. It was a shabby betrayal of democracy that relied on old-fashioned police intimidation, but it at least had the virtue of being honest.
Bloomberg's laughable attempts to put a smiley face on dissent can't obscure his shortchanging of constitutional guarantees of speech and assembly. Citing fears of terrorism, Bloomberg's office hasn't granted protest permits for Central Park or other places far removed from Madison Square Garden.
Gathering sites have yet to be designated for thousands of protesters who'll soon begin converging on New York. But thanks to the mayor's program, they can catch a matinee of "Naked Boys Singing" while they're waiting.
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