Nancy and I are going to Amsterdam during Thanksgiving Week for the Cannabis
Cup where I will receive the Countercultural Hall of Fame Award. They're
making a documentary about me for the presentation, and I'm wondering if
there's any footage of me in your inventory. Below will appear in the LA
In 1968, during the Democratic convention in Chicago, I was a speaker at an
Unbirthday Party for Lyndon Johnson at the Coliseum. I revealed to the
audience the true story of a reporter who had once interviewed LBJ and,
after the formal question-and-answer session, the president, referring to
the Vietnam war, told him, What the Communists are really saying is ^Fuck
you, Lyndon Johnson, and nobody says ^Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson and gets
away with it. I paused. Well, I continued, when I count three, were
all gonna say it--and were gonna get away with it! Are you ready?
One...two...three... And, from the Yippies and Mobilization-Against-the
War and the Clean-for-Genes, it came at me like an audio tidal
wave--thousands of voices shouting in unison: FUCK YOU, LYNDON
JOHNSON!!!--a mass catharsis reverberating from the rafters.
And so, thirty-three years later, last Thursday--Day 5 of the Retaliation,
symbolized by CNNs change of logo, from Americas New War to America
Strikes Back--I had a strong sense of continuity while emceeing a rally at
Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco, starring Ralph Nader, the Green Party
candidate for president in 2000. This event, a stop along his People Have
the Power grassroots-organizing tour, was originally supposed to be about
corporate domination generally and about the energy crisis specifically, but
it had since become intertwined with the international situation, and Nader
had morphed from a consumer advocate into an antiwar leader.
As a political satirist, my role was to provide comic relief. Steve Allen
once said that comedy is tragedy plus time, but we were all in the midst of
an ongoing tragedy that only kept intensifying instead of dissipating. Jay
Leno had reverted to Clinton jokes, David Letterman was demonizing Osama bin
Laden, Bill Maher chickened out of defending his remark about military
cowardice, and Jerry Seinfeld considered observational humor about airplane
food too controversial. This rally would mark the first time I performed
since the suicide-bomber attacks, and I felt slightly apprehensive about
what tack to take.
However, a couple of hours before going on stage, I watched George W.
Bushs press conference, and now, at the risk of committing comedic treason,
I was inescapably compelled to report my own version: Bush explained that
simultaneously dropping bombs and food on Afghanistan is just an example of
compassionate conservatism...divulged that the ABM treaty had an expiration
date in tiny print...pointed out that the United States gave $43 million to
the Taliban because theyre a faith-based organization...
When I introduced former stand-up comic and teacher Tom Ammiano, the openly
gay president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, he began: You all
know me, Im the president who you can believe when I say, ^I didnt sleep
with that woman. Then he launched into a rap about the upcoming election
with propositions on the ballot for public power, solar power, and the
Municipal Utilities District (MUD) Board, concluding, We can pass the MUD
initiative and say, ^Fuck PG&E!
Medea Benjamin, founder of the human rights organization Global Exchange
and Green Party candidate for U.S. senator from California in 2000, provided
a transition to the Mid-East by asking the audience, What one word can sum
up the real reason why were there? And three thousand voices shouted back
in unison: Oil! Indeed, the U.S. government has been negotiating to build
oil pipelines running beneath the Caspian Sea through Afghanistan.
Although Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and Time magazine contributor
Roger Rosenblatt have both declared the end of the age of irony, Nader
delineated the frightening ways that Bushs campaign slogan, I trust the
people, not the government, utterly reeks with irony. Truth is the first
casualty of a nation in crisis, he said, stressing the importance of
guarding our liberties. Americans must be vigilant about attacks on civil
liberties in the wake of the September 11th terrorism.
Nader insisted that the inhumane and criminal terrorists be brought to
justice, but advocated an end to the bombing. He posed a question to the
audience: How many of you, since September 11th, have wanted to express an
opinion that was something other than the thought-police stampede? To all
those who raised their hands, he advised, If you feel yourself inhibited,
thats the moment to break out and make yourself known. Otherwise, your
silence is allowing suppression of the Constitution.
The prolonged standing ovation Nader received was indicative of the
burgeoning peace movement, with teach-ins at college campuses and, in
effect, on the Internet. I reminded the audience that ABC correspondent
Cokie Roberts was asked if there was any opposition to the war. None that
matters, she replied. Well, I continued, would you all care to join me
in saying ^Fuck you, Cokie Roberts when I count three? Okay,
one...two...three... And it came at me like an audio tidal wave--thousands
of voices shouting in unison: FUCK YOU, COKIE ROBERTS!!! I was
experiencing a moment of deja vu supreme.
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