WASHINGTON — This is supposedly the week of multitudinous demonstrations in Washington, D.C. The hordes are getting more media attention than the hundreds of thousands of President-elect Donald Trump supporters who are also coming into town. Whether the demonstrations will be as multitudinous as anticipated by the media, I cannot say. Certainly, they are getting plenty of publicity already, though their actual numbers as of Tuesday night are disappointing.
Rev. Al Charlatan’s (ne Rev. Al Sharpton’s) turnout Saturday was rather puny, I am told. I may have seen it, but then again, I may have not. I was on my way to J. Press, a men’s store. There was a small demonstration near the Lincoln Memorial. The demonstrators were reclining on the grass in some sort of formation, possibly doing yoga. Could these have been Al’s troops?
They seemed confused, even disorientated. What also struck me about them was they were shabbily dressed, so shabbily as to appear pathetic. I reported on this aspect of the modern-day street demonstration in this column months ago, at the time of the Republican National Convention. Supposedly the anti-Trump fever was at new heights. Yet the 21st-century street protesters just do not live up to the sartorial standards set back in the 1960s. They are dirty and do not appear to be well-fed, and their clothes appear to be hand-me-downs — hand-me-downs from street people. Also, many appeared to be dazed.
I recall the good old days of the 1960s anti-war demonstrations; the anti-war demonstrations plus the civil rights demonstrations; the anti-war demonstrations plus the civil rights demonstrations plus the legalization of marijuana demonstrations; and throw in the demonstrations for free love and the abolishment of grades — and perhaps even the abolishment of classes. Those participants knew how to dress. Many looked like Che Guevara before he had his fatal run-in with the CIA. They at least looked like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Tom Hayden. Sure, they were dirty, but it only took a night at Mommy and Daddy’s with soap and shampoo to clean them up. And they were ignorant and unhappy, and they could rarely get up for a demonstration before noon. But they dressed in military fatigues — their clothier was possibly L.L. Bean — and one could imagine them in the jungle with Guevara before his unpleasant demise.
I cannot say I knew Hoffman, but anyway, he did not sound like a lot of laughs. In fact, he proved it in 1989 when he took 150 phenobarbital tablets and liquor, whereupon he assumed room temperature. He had been living in a turkey coop converted into an apartment. One hundred and fifty tablets! I never trusted a demonstrator who could not hold his phenobarbital.
Then there was Rubin. He led massive demonstrations, and I even attended a couple of them. Actually, I stood right next to him at one, close enough to observe his belly fat, which enveloped his belt. He was not what I would call physically fit, though he did make his audiences laugh. He went on in the 1970s and 1980s to become a Wall Street titan, then a business consultant and networker. Then he pedaled “life-enhancing” supplements. He had an office in Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard (as did President Ronald Reagan). One day, while jaywalking across the six lanes of the boulevard, he was hit by a passing vehicle. He died two weeks later in the hospital. He was 56 years old. At least his life span went four years beyond Hoffman’s, and he never suffered the indignity of that turkey coop.
Finally, there was Hayden, whom I knew quite well. When he was married to Jane Fonda, he sent me Christmas cards — or maybe it was Jane. Perhaps she knew my weakness for Hollywood glitz. At any rate, we appeared on radio together, and possibly television. One memorable occasion was “The Bob Grant Show.” Tom was reluctant to tell the radio audience of the taunts he had taught his peace demonstrators to intone in Chicago’s Grant Park in 1968 just before the cops became unruly and the demonstrators’ blood began to flow. But I was there, and I told the audience of Tom’s taunts, which were directed at the wives of the young Irish and Italian cops. Tom never forgave me. I thought he would be proud. He died last year. He made it to 76 years old.
The thing this week’s demonstrators should remember about even the well-dressed demonstrators of days gone by is though some might achieve momentary fame, all fame passes. Then it is back to the tedium of their present lives. Better it is to have a job and a family than Abbie Hoffman’s turkey coop and Jerry Ruben’s office on Wilshire Boulevard. Not even Tom Hayden’s culmination was all that great.
During the late campaign, Donald Trump allegedly made some rude remarks about the demonstrators’ favorite classifications of human beings. Now they are going to put on an even ruder display before the authorities move in. I think the Donald will tell them that it is not a very good deal.