“And the ship’s wise men / Will remind you once again / That the whole wide world is watchin’”
— Bob Dylan, “When the Ship Comes In”
Central to the grand tradition of public demonstrations and civil disobedience is that you very much want everyone to see who you are and what you are doing.
If you don’t, it is less likely that you are crusading for justice and more likely that you are out to commit an act of wanton violence.
Whether it is peaceful sit-in or march, a human blockade of a street or building, or any of a number of other tactics that reasonably end in the arrest of the participants, the whole point, especially in the age of mass communication, is that you are very open about what you are doing and why.
Sometimes the goal is not just to draw attention to yourself and your cause, but also to demonstrate that you are willing to risk public censure, arrest, even violence at the hands of government agents or private actors, to state your case.
Whether it was Mahatma Gandhi being brutalized by the British, John Lewis getting his skull bashed in by Alabama state troopers or Dennis of the autonomous collective being beaten by King Arthur, you win by demonstrating the violence inherent in the system.
The anti-war demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, before they were set upon by what was later officially described as “a police riot” chanted “The whole world is watching.”
The whole world was watching Wednesday, as the can’t-be-gone-soon-enough president egged on a mess of his followers to invade the U.S. Capitol and desecrate the center of our democracy with Confederate flags and acts of vandalism in a vain but disgraceful attempt to stop the legal counting of votes and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power to the duly elected next president.
It didn’t work.
Attempts to throw out electoral votes from a few swing states basically fizzled as lawmakers who had been ready to ride that hobby horse into the night no longer wanted to be associated with that cause. Calls for Donald Trump to be sent packing early grew, two Cabinet secretaries quit and, probably the most painful of all to him, his social media accounts were silenced.
By late Thursday, the president surrendered, his prospects of spending the next four years in profitable exile, plotting a return to power, seriously and deservedly diminished.
Many of the yobs involved in the uprising, as is common to modern folk, took pictures of themselves and posted them to a new social media platform called Admissible Evidence.
But proof that the hooligans who attacked Congress have no place in the American tradition of civil disobedience is their hostility to the press. Mimicking their Dear Leader, many of those demonstrating in Washington and at state capitals including Salt Lake City were clearly hostile to journalists covering the event.
In Washington, rioters chanted “Murder the media,” threatened reporters, destroyed cameras, fashioned a power cable into a noose, struck at least one journalist and threw another to the floor. In Olympia, Washington, reporters were threatened with violence and told to “Get the f--- out.”
And in Salt Lake City, open contempt for the free press took the form of threats, insults and some bargain-basement fascist pepper-spraying Tribune photographer Rick Egan in the eyes.
People who treat journalists this way deserve nothing but contempt. Such acts demonstrate that the perpetrators know, deep down, that they are doing something bad, something to be ashamed of.
People who are proud to take to the streets, chain themselves to the doors of the Statehouse, set up housekeeping in a tall tree to stop it from being cut down or otherwise make their views on any public issue loudly known have a properly symbiotic relationship with a free press. They relish the attention, schedule their demonstrations, ask if you got that quote or need another photo.
Sometimes it is a lot of pointless sound and fury and sometimes journalists leave the event feeling more than a little used.
But it is out there in the light, part of the search for truth and meaning, and therefore something that Trump supporters will never understand.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, swears he will never again take a photo of the presentation of a six-foot-long check.