By Ralph Benko
Us versus Them. It's common parlance. They, of course, being The Bad Guys.
Among the politically impassioned (such as myself) it is a frequent trope to say that "They" -- meaning the Other Side -- are responsible for the many woes that plague Us (the Good Guys and the general welfare). As a (then) young conservative activist this sure made sense to me. It was, after all, a clear case of "Us" versus "Them."
But ... who were They?
Being a curious cat I decided to set out to find the nefarious Them. I wished to see Them in person, to gaze with my own eyes -- rather than through the lens of media reports -- into the malevolent eyes of ... Them.
Spoiler Alert. Over the course of this quest I met many prominent leaders of the ideological adversaries of my Tribe. Aha! I would think to myself. At long last I will meet one of Them and gaze with my own eyes with horror (insert ominous organ spike here) into the Heart of Darkness.
Imagine my consternation, followed by growing resignation, when each time it turned out that none of them was a ... Them.
By jingo! Every man jack and woman jill of them just turned out to be just another Us: someone passionately engaged in attempting, by their own narrative and best lights, to better the condition of humanity, ecology, and the world. Another ... Us. (Yawn.)
That doesn't mean I was persuaded by, or to, their agendas. Rather the opposite. I was not looking to defect. Perish the Thought. Nor does it imply that I was so rude, or naïve, as to attempt to challenge their narrative and show them the Error of Their Ways. I was not looking to make converts. I just wanted to know. And learn.
My quest began in earnest in mid-April 2000. There was a really big protest staged against the World Bank and IMF, architected by the same minds -- an anarchist collective if memory serves -- who had engineered the notorious 1999 Battle in Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization's Ministerial Meeting there. It spun out of control and ended in riots and vandalism. Yet in some ways it was prescient.
As it happens the IMF and World Bank long have been bête noirs of the right. I asked myself why should the left have all the fun? I was only able to recruit one other member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy to participate. (So far as I could see we were the only two there in suit and tie, having come directly from work, in a sea of thousands of blue-jean wearing protestors.) My fellow right-winger soon grew uncomfortable and left. Thus I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
It's kind of difficult to ascertain who is in a position of authority at an anarchist street action. But in the crowd there stood out -- literally, at 6'8" -- a reed thin fellow wearing a blazer and khakis and holding a walkie-talkie. I went up to him and said, "Pardon me, I don't know who is in charge here but I covet one of those batik flags lashed to the lamp posts. I intend to appropriate one for my collection."
To which he replied, "Oh, sir, please don't do that. They're private property. And they've been promised to the Smithsonian. You can buy one on our website." Wow. An anarchist with etiquette, who respects private property, culture and commerce. Not exactly Bakunin.
I pestered him into agreeing to have coffee with me, later, once the action had settled down, and he did. Patrick Reinsborough, now of the Center for Story-based Strategy (then SmartMeme) currently described at http://beautifultrouble.org as a "strategist, organizer and creative provocateur with over twenty years of experience campaigning for peace, justice, indigenous rights" notwithstanding his militancy turned out to be a beautiful soul.
Just as an aside, I'm for peace, justice and indigenous rights too (although our interpretation of precisely what these mean probably differs somewhat and our views as to the best means to such ends certainly differ). Darn it. Patrick turned out not a Them. Just another Us. We commenced a warm, long distance, acquaintanceship.
Four years later I escorted him to a front row seat at a side meeting of Supply-Siders at the Republican National Convention so he could see what his Thems looked like in person. He departed with eyes as big as saucers, saying, "It's just like we imagined! They all do sit in a room and plot our destiny!" To which I replied, "Oh Patrick, if it were only true! But the Party isn't listening to any of the people in that room." (Nor was it.)
To be continued....