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Bush inspires mass group therapy

Teresa Fralish | Friday, November 21, 2003

I had the distinct privilege of attending several of the organized protests across London against the visit of President George W. Bush this week. Media projections from both American and British news sources made me expect near-riotous conditions from the overwhelming opposition to Bush’s visit.Instead, I witnessed a carnival of protesters participating in an act of self-indulgence.The right to protest and demonstrate is one of the most crucial liberties ensured by Western democracies, and the events preceding President Bush’s visit inspired me to attend the protest to gain a better understanding of European opposition to the leader of the free world. In a jam packed theater at the London School of Economics, I listened to George Galloway, the leading anti-war Member of Parliament, mock the president during a speech to the Stop the War Coalition, then continue to state, “I cannot condemn suicide bombers in Iraq attempting to rid their country of the foreign invaders.” My stomach turned as I considered the thousands of Americans placing their lives on the line for their country whether they agree with the president or not, yet I vowed not to be discouraged.Posters around school advertised a “Stop Bush” party in the Underground Bar – one pound for a pint! I never imagined the limitless social opportunities that existed for those who despise the president before I arrived in London, and the week’s events were no exception. The highlight of the party was a heated debate between two individuals who could not decide if Bush was more of a terrorist or a war criminal. He was finally deemed a terrorist because the title of war criminal is more apt for a leader who is democratically elected, of course.Finally, Bush arrived on Tuesday, and the streets were abuzz with general fervor as the historic three day visit commenced. I ventured out with my head low toward the protesting hot spots, not knowing what to expect. After approaching the crowd with caution, my apprehension allayed when I beheld the scene.Many of the trademarks of a normal protest were present, from the upside down American flags to the Bush effigies. The most elaborate was a Bush doll gripping a missile in one hand and a flag in the other, complete with a sign reading “Smart bomb for a stupid president.”A bit confused by the seemingly overstated signs that compared Bush to Hitler or painted Cheney with oil overflowing from his mouth, I politely asked the protesters their humble opinion of my president. Their responses covered a variety of issues, and most of which were as shortsighted and irrational as their signs were untruthful.When one man with a “No Blood for Oil” shirt voiced his anger against Bush for failing to ratify the Kyoto treaty, I couldn’t help but explain how President Clinton put off ratifying it during his term, and Al Gore, author of “Earth in the Balance,” probably would not have signed the treaty himself had he won the 2000 election. Before I could continue and explain the treaty’s blatant anti-American bias, he jumped on the mention of the 2000 election and spouted off some Michael Moore-inspired rant about how Bush stole the election with his gang of thugs.Another protester, a woman carrying a copy of “A Terrorist Comes to Town” rallying poster, told me that she thought Bush’s administration was composed of neo-Nazis who want to take over the world. And she was serious. I stopped myself before I could respond because a large crowd was forming around a protester with a loudspeaker who drew my attention away.The crowd was the largest yet, and at that point I realized the massive protest was astoundingly similar to group therapy, with throngs of rabid Bush haters voicing their oft misguided, though not entirely invalid, arguments against the president to welcoming listeners. The act of screaming obscenities against a person completely out of earshot in the midst of a sympathetic audience can be a cathartic experience for someone with pent up rage. The social dimension of the entire event pervaded the crowd where people could connect through their one shared character trait: hatred for Bush.The personal benefits of their protest started to make everything from the last week come together, and I almost disregarded the fact that the media attention they draw only makes them look bad in the eyes of a rational-minded individual.If you watch CNN and hear tales of the noble protesters voicing their utter rage against the Bush juggernaut, you’re hearing a skewed version of the actual events that unfolded. Hardly any voices of intellectual honesty existed in the crowd; otherwise, we would hear more praise of Bush for bringing together one of the largest support groups in history in the streets of London.

Bill Rinner is a junior economics major currently attending the London School of Economics. He believes that the most effective protests are for a common goal, not against a common enemy. His column appears every other Friday. He can be reached at wrinner@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.