The Day Before The Inauguration

January 25, 2009

The Day Before The Inauguration

More people than ever, but hardly any politicians make the
annual short march across Lincoln Park to the King Statue

The other day a friend said to me, “I never hear about these Martin Luther King events in your neighborhood, at the Rockefeller Plaza, or afterwards at one of the schools. I don’t see them advertised anywhere. How come?”

Well, I could have lectured my friend about how the local corporate media makes a special point of not informing the public about upcoming events. But I didn’t this time. I can assure you that my friends have heard more than enough of this stuff from me.

Word of the M.L King events does get out every year, through churches, unions and governmental workplaces. All of the local and state politicians are somehow magically aware of the events. As usual, I saw no public announcements ahead of time, not even an email. Despite this information suppression, people like me do show up.

Waiting With The Parking Guy Waiting With The Parking Guy

Every year, the ceremonies start in the dismal auditorium under The Egg, where a sparse and somewhat sullen crowd sits in the half light and listens to a string of elected and appointed officials give a series of inane bordering on idiotic speeches. Meanwhile, unnecessary State Troopers get in everybody’s way and eye the audience suspiciously.

Eventually the officials run out of self-congratulatory platitudes and the vaguely irritated audience drifts out onto the concourse under the plaza. Thus the first part of the annual march is a disorganized drift across the nice warm concourse to stop at the doors opposite the State Museum. Then, after forming up, the crowd plunges into the cold outdoors for the grueling quarter mile downhill stroll.

I did not descend into the plaza for this ritual abuse, I learned my lesson last year. Although it was seasonably cold this year, I preferred to stand in Lincoln Park on a snow bank under the sunshine and wait. I’d rather freeze to death than listen to those speeches again. (Fortunately, I was wearing my thermal underwear.)

Here Come The Marchers Here Come The Marchers

As usual, there was a genuine Albany cop posted at the entrance to the park at Morton Avenue, ready to block off the street with saw horses. But this year Parking Enforcement personnel were stationed at the intersections along the parade route. I suppose that saves the taxpayers lots of money on salaries since real cops get pretty expensive, especially on holidays.

The parking guy I chatted with who was stationed across from the entrance to the Lincoln Park Pool told me he wasn’t getting holiday pay, but he was happy to get the extra hours. He also admitted to me that he didn’t have the slightest idea what he supposed to be doing other than standing where he was. I told him he was doing a great job of keeping back the crowds and the cars.

One Of The Honor Guards... Are Those DEC Patches On Their Shoulders? One Of The Honor Guards…
Are Those DEC Patches On Their Shoulders?

One car did pull up and stop, a middle aged guy who took his dog down into the bowl of the park. Five minutes later I watched the dog run with effortless joy up the steep sides of the bowl, straight across the road and practically fly to the top of the grassy hill by the Sunshine School. I could see the ecstatic pooch circling a tree and leaping repeatedly with total abandon straight up into the air.

A few minutes later the guy came huffing up to the road. “Your dog went that way,” I told him, “and he looked very happy.” “His owner is not,” was the reply as he passed by and trudged up the hill.

That’s probably the only regret I have about living in an urban environment. I don’t want to own a dog if I have to confine it all the time like a bird in a cage. A dog needs to run as fast as it can over the hills, glowing with joy and excitement. It needs to do this every day of its life. Can’t let a dog do that in the City anymore, or in the suburbs either.

The Controlling Element Brings Up The Rear The Controlling Element Brings Up The Rear

After this we watched the Parking Enforcement Supervisor’s SUV pull up to the corner at the north end of the park, roof lights flashing angrily. It seems that the Parking Enforcement guy guarding the intersection up there had placed his saw horses carefully across Park Avenue, which was the parade route. The Supervisor, a much younger guy, stomped out of his vehicle and moved the horses himself to the proper position.

After these crises the procession finally appeared, a good healthy crowd. First came the cops in two cars, then the cops on horses. Behind them was the police honor guard with flags. And behind them were supposed to be a crowd of politicians… but where were they?

Quite a few of our elected officials were already in Washington DC for the inauguration of Barack Obama as president, which was to happen the very next day. They were joining the million and a half relieved and joyful Americans on the National Mall celebrating the return of ethics and competency to our federal government.

But where were the rest of the local politicians? Was it too cold for those shirkers?

For several years we even had former governor George Pataki march out of the plaza to our statue, the first time in 1995 after he first got elected. Pataki had just finished running for office on a “hate Albany” platform, a tactic which seems to have played well in the more economically depressed parts of upstate New York. Partly for this reason the Republican governor was already at this time deeply hated by most of the taxpayers who lived in the City of Albany, deservedly.

Here’s a story that made it into the corporate media. At the plaza doors Pataki joined the gaggle of politicians behind the honor guard. But then, future mayoral candidate Alice Green walked up to Pataki and told him that he couldn’t stand near the front, he had to go to the back of the crowd. Being an easily manipulated spineless wimp, Pataki obediently trailed the procession all the way to the statue.

I’ve always admired Ms. Green for this gesture which revealed so much about the former governor at the start of his first term, and for delivering such a great zinger. Too bad Ms. Green and her husband are such active opponents of Pine Bush preservation. For that reason she will never receive my political support.

Mayor Jennings Reviews The Parade Mayor Jennings Reviews The Parade

Pataki’s successor Eliot Spitzer had exactly two chances to march out of the plaza doors to my neighborhood, but he blew it. This legal expert and top prosecutor seemed to think that the Cheney/Bush administration would not use the so-called “Patriot” Act to destroy political opponents like him by fishing through his bank records. Did Spitzer, like most Americans, imagine that this “terrorism” statute would not or could not be used against him?

I can understand how the average American does not realize how close we are to totalitarianism. But when a central figure like Spitzer demonstrates that he doesn’t have a clue how statutes like the “Patriot” Act are quietly destroying our country, then we are all in deep trouble.

Police Chief James Tuffey Police Chief James Tuffey

Early last year Spitzer was about to make a one person last ditch effort to stop the impending sub-prime mortgage crisis by filing suit against the now thankfully defunct Republican administration in DC. Unfortunately for him, the electorate in New York State is easily manipulated by the corporate media, and Spitzer lost power instantly because of his personal bedroom habits.

Perhaps the former governor should have done things like march out of the plaza to the King statue, perhaps he would have made some friends who would have leapt to his defense. That is, some friends who would have leapt to the defense of the Bill of Rights. The hell with Spitzer. Our precious rights need friends a lot more than he does.

Eliot Spitzer ought to be thankful that the Republicans stopped at destroying his political career. He could very well have suffered the fate of Karl Rove’s computer expert Michael Connell, who was about to reveal the details about how the 2004 presidential election was stolen when he met with an untimely accident. Funny how this experienced and expert pilot forgot to put gas in the tank of his plane.

This year I hoped to see our new Governor David Paterson marching down Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard (S. Swan Street) but I was disappointed. You never know, Mr. Paterson, this may have been your only chance. Just ask Eliot.

Unless I’m mistaken, there were exactly three elected officials marching this year. I saw county legislator Wanda Willingham and long time assembly member Jack McEneny. This is, after all, McEneny’s district. And of course, the master of ceremonies himself who shows up every year, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. Yes, this year The Mayor marched across Lincoln Park.

Behind the politicians came… the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation? With a banner, no less. I strongly suspect that there’s some sort of rotating obligation among the State agencies to participate in the M.L. King event. This year it was the DEC’s turn. Or am I wrong about that?

Behind the DEC came the military honor guard, with flags of course. This much of the procession was like a traditional parade, with the police, the government, the bureaucracy and the military in formation on display. Indeed, all of the oppressive controlling elements that bear down on our society were formally represented.

All but one controlling element, that is. So far, M.L. King day has been free of advertising and product endorsements, thus the corporations did not represent themselves in this march. Besides, corporations are decidedly unpatriotic, and they definitely don’t care about the well-being of communities like ours which they exploit.

Of course, the corporations were present in the form of the corporate media, but they did not participate in the event. They were present merely to fill up their air time with content. To put it another way, they were here in our park to grab something that they could sell.

Ah, but the short M.L. King march is a modern democratic parade. In traditional old fashioned parades you have to qualify in order to participate, that is, you have to be a member in good standing of either the oppressive ruling elements or of a respectable civic organization. If you don’t qualify, then you have to stand along the parade route and watch obediently.

I’d like to see more political holiday parades such as the Fourth of July or Memorial Day become open to us all. We see how traditional parades that take place on these days are sparsely attended and hardly noted. These days belong to all of us, thus all of us should have a right to participate.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the most purely democratic and well-attended parades are the numerous urban 5k runs for health that we have throughout the year. People unhesitatingly join these parades because these runs have no ideological baggage for the participants. Because the urban runs are empty of meaning, they acquire meaning from their settings. They become celebrations of urban communities, of public space. This is no small thing for those of us who live here.

The Wife started running (marching?) in 5ks for her health. She’s told me that she’s always had a dream or fantasy of just running down the road with total abandon like a young dog sailing over the grass and never coming back. For her, running is an approximate fulfillment of that desire. After all, she never has to stop running in urban races, does she?

Assemblyman Jack McEneny (Center) Bugged By An Uptown Party Hack.  The Guy Wouldn't Leave Him Alone The Whole Time Assemblyman Jack McEneny (Center) Bugged By An
Uptown Party Hack. The Guy Wouldn’t
Leave Him Alone The Whole Time

I was the only spectator lining the parade route when the procession appeared, and I jumped right in and joined the marchers. Here we were, the most important and decisive element in our society. Without our support, the oppressive elements marching in front of us would shimmer and fade like thermal mirages on an August pavement.

In two shakes we were at the statue. As usual the speeches and ceremonies and invocations were short. Nothing like an outdoor event in January to suppress the natural tendency of elected officials to blather until their audiences turn glassy eyed.

After all the official ceremonies people milled around in the cold and interacted, reluctant to leave the statue. I suppose if we held ML King day on April 4, the day of the great man’s assassination, we could have a barbecue. But then, if the weather was nice, the politicians wouldn’t shut up. There’s always tradeoffs for these things.

Several cute young kids posed shamelessly while the shameless corporate media filmed them and snapped their pictures over and over. I swear these kids didn’t move for about five minutes, gazing at Dr. King’s image with adoration. They seemed to be perfectly aware that their upturned faces were going to become the iconic image of the day’s events on the evening TV news shows.

Kids These Days... Kids These Days…

The very next day would be a new beginning for our nation. During the week to come the worst of the old boys and party hacks would be swept out of the White House, hopefully never to return. If only we could remove them from everywhere, sweep them out of Albany. Then maybe yes, we the people can take back our country from the oppressive elements and prosper once again.

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