They Always Say That….

Dutch die-in , Amsterdam, 1970. Courtesy of Roundabouts.

Naturally, Council Member Cedillo’s office claimed that recent street protests had nothing to do with decisions to retract the application for much-unneeded diagonal parking on North Figueroa, and to “consider” a road diet and bike lanes for five blocks of that street. (That’s still a crumb compared to the five miles of safe streets that had been vetted, planned, and funded before Cedillo squeezed into office last year.)

Just as inevitably, local NGO’s also dismissed the standing of a fed-up community that bypasses its high priests and takes its displeasure directly to the powers-that-be.

All three sides of the dispute are profiled in an recent LA Times article written safely after the fact.

But the fact, and the timing of the fact, remains: until the “rabble”—aka Cedillo’s constituents—took to the streets, nothing happened. All the polite engagement and hand-wringing in the world elicited nothing more than blither and doublespeak from the council office on every level. Indeed, from news conferences to neighborhood council meetings, Cedillo put the “diss” into “District.” His primary “engagement” consisted of instructing the peasants from on high, usually through intermediaries, while rarely returning phone calls or emails, answering queries from constituents, or receiving members of the press, mainstream or not. As the Times article notes, “Cedillo would not agree to an interview” even with the largest newspaper west of the Hudson River.

Yet protest, that is, direct engagement that sidesteps the various bureaucratic priesthoods, is labeled, as in the Times article, an “extreme tactic” and “less than productive.”

It has long been thus, from the days of the Magna Carta onwards. Rights are never given; they are taken. America was founded when staid petitioning was ignored by Mad King George, leading to the “extreme tactic” of the Boston Tea Party and, ultimately, an actual war that lasted eleven years. A few years later, the French aristocracy’s “let them eat cake” responses to petitions from the riffraff led to the truly extreme tactic of the Reign of Terror.

More recently, and gently, revered figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. (whose birthday we just celebrated as a national holiday), all led street protests that resulted in more just and representative governance, after decades of nuzzling up to intransigent power-addicts failed to achieve much of anything at all.

In each case, the tactics of angry rabble-rousing and public protests were dismissed as “less than productive,” but it remains that nothing happened till the people expressed themselves directly.

Of course a fragment of local road diet doesn’t fall anywhere near this category of achievement, but then, Gil Cedillo is not Governor-General of India either. Nevertheless, he does need to know that the little empire over which he thinks he reigns belongs not to him but to its people.

And he’s starting to see that now, because the people have spoken.

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