One of the remarkable aspects of the recent spate of infantile left-wing protests that caught Jim Geraghty’s attention is that they are directed at private life and private spaces rather than at public institutions and public affairs. One expects protests at city hall; in New York, we even endured the unseemly spectacle of one of those shut-down-traffic protests conducted by the city council itself, as though its members did not do enough to inconvenience the residents of that city. Protests in front of the police station or the (hideously fascist-looking) Federal Reserve building are part of the normal course of affairs in a democratic republic with free speech and a strong tradition of lively discourse.
But the profoundly stupid “black brunch” protests, during which racial-grievance entrepreneurs disrupted meals at places that seemed to them offensively Caucasian (“white spaces”) are a different species of undertaking.
And a poorly informed one, at that: In New York City, protesters invaded the Pershing Square Café across the street from Grand Central Terminal, which is one of the more diverse spots in heavily segregated Manhattan, catering as it does to commuting 53-year-old lawyers from Fairfield County, who check any number of different demographic boxes.
The message these protests send is that there is no private space — and, therefore, no private life — so far as this particular rabble is concerned. It’s the familiar Trotsky conundrum: You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.
That the people at brunch have no real direct connection to the events motivating the protesters is beside the point. They were targeted on racial grounds: These were detestable “white spaces,” and the people there were to be punished for being white — even if they were not, in fact, white, their presence in “white spaces” makes them guilty by association. That the protesters were themselves largely white goes without saying: Protests of this sort are a prestige performance for stupid white college kids, mainly. If you want to see a genuinely “white space,” a protest is your best bet.
While it is the case that the phrase “religious extremism” is of limited use (because it matters a great deal which religion is under discussion), the politics of religious extremist movements ranging from al-Qaeda to the sundry Ayn Rand cults have in common that apostates are always punished with far greater severity than are mere infidels. It is one thing never to have seen the light, but to have seen it and rejected it is unforgivable. (One of the great debates among sharia scholars from the earliest days of Islam to the present is: How many days should an apostate be imprisoned before he is put to death? There’s less debate about putting them to death.) That dynamic makes it inevitable that well-meaning progressives are frequently on the receiving end of outrage from their more puritanical co-religionists.
Such was the case in San Francisco’s Castro district, a prominent gay neighborhood, when 300 protesters shut down its main street to protest the fact that the neighborhood “is a space dominated by white middle-class men, and is symbolic of the racial divide within the LGBT community and gentrification in San Francisco in general,” as one local dope put it. Their demands were for “all mainstream LGBT organizations to take concrete action in support of black lives,” and they provided a list of organizations to which they would like to see local organizations offering donations.
Which is to say, they’re running a protection racket.
That’s historically been a pretty good business for the Left. Jesse Jackson, surely one of the wealthiest Baptist preachers without a congregation, has had a very successful career at that, and he’s smarter than the “black brunch” gang. He isn’t in New York complaining that Manhattan brunch spots are too white; he’s in Silicon Valley complaining that the C-suites and boardrooms of gazillion-dollar tech companies are too white. You don’t get paid leaning on brunchers; you get paid leaning on Google, a company in which whites are slightly underrepresented but Asian Americans are wildly overrepresented, constituting about 30 percent of its employees. When it comes to “people of color,” you can be sure that the Reverend Jackson has a favorite crayon in his diversity pack. Practically every affirmative-action debate in California, whether on corporate diversity or college admissions, is silently, guiltily concerned with the fact that it is not whites who are overrepresented in positions of prestige but members of a minority group, one whose interests there is not much juice in defending. When it comes to politics, all the money is in dysfunction, and Asian Americans are relatively short on that.
Sensible people would tell these pathetic bullies to mind their own business, but minding your business — and Google’s business — is literally Jesse Jackson’s business. (Literally, Mr. Vice President.) It’s what he does and how he eats. And it’s the Left’s best growth industry: Build nothing, create nothing, nurture nothing, and then shut down I-93 until you get your way, whether that means money in pocket, which is what the Castro protesters and Jesse Jackson are after, or whether that simply means luxuriating in the addictive pleasure of moral preening, which is what idiot white college kids in New York are after. The latter requires an audience, thus the Occupy a Denver Omelet movement.
What’s hilarious is that the protesters themselves are getting a lesson in why private life matters. When an enterprising WBZ-TV reporter, Ken MacLeod, started tracking down the Boston protesters who shut down the freeway and found them at their homes — often their parents’ homes, mansions in Brookline — he was accused of “harassment,” told “I need you to leave our property immediately,” etc. Which is to say, the protesters, having inserted themselves into public affairs, wished to enjoy the courtesy that they refused to extend to those who hadn’t inserted themselves into public affairs. When it comes to dopey Trustafarians, there’s more that’s tangled than their hair.
During the Civil Rights Movement — the real one, not the ersatz one led today by Jesse Jackson et al. — politics did genuinely intersect with brunch. On one side of the issue were people who argued that the social situation of African Americans at the time was so dire and so oppressive that invasive federal action was necessary. On the other side were well-intentioned conservatives such as Barry Goldwater and any number of writers for this magazine, who argued that if the reach of Washington were extended into every mom-and-pop diner in the country, it would constitute a step toward the abolition of private life, that the natural and inevitable extension of the principle at work would ensure that rather than being treated as private property, businesses reclassified as “public accommodations” would be treated more like public property, that the greasy snout of politics eventually would stick itself into every last precinct of what had been considered the sphere of privacy beyond the public sector.
As it turns out, both sides were right.
— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent for National Review.