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Column: Laguna taps celebrity to promote a cause — but it’s not the first

Before actor Ted Danson spoke at an offshore drilling protest in Laguna Beach on Saturday, he snuck up quietly in the back of the crowd and listened to other speakers. His anonymity did not last long.
(Photo by Dave Hansen)

You know it didn’t start with Hanoi Jane.

Or Muhammad Ali, George Clooney or Madonna.

Celebrity protesters have been around for a very long time. In the United States, arguably one of the first acts of celebrity defiance came Dec. 16, 1773, when a famous silversmith and rabble-rouser participated in the Boston Tea Party.

His name was Paul Revere.

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I was pondering all of this last Saturday in Laguna Beach, standing next to actor Ted Danson.

With his silver hair and megawatt smile, he was showing his support for an offshore drilling protest.

Danson is a long-time supporter of ocean causes, so his presence was not entirely surprising. But it did appear to help mobilize the faithful.

The crowd of several hundred people dwarfed (and nearly trampled) the long-suffering Laguna peace vigil, which has held court on Main Beach for 50 years. Founded Feb. 25, 1968, it is the longest-running peace vigil in the U.S.

I wondered if the anti-drilling protesters even knew that Eleanor Henry, 94, was in their midst. As always, she sat faithfully in her chair, peace sign in hand while the newbies clamored around her.

Or did they give homage to long-time activists Lee and Chris Casegrillo, who worry about the dwindling commitment to peace. It’s one thing to show up for a celebrity; it’s another to show up every Saturday for 50 years.

Chris Casegrillo was seen passing out a small informational note to anti-drilling protesters, reminding them of the peace vigil.

“Our efforts to recruit follow-on forces, so to speak, have not been very fruitful,” Chris Casegrillo said. “Frankly, I think that the peace vigil in Laguna Beach is dying, absent some substantial renewal.”

He admitted that people support the concept, but not the tough part.

“Many are positively supportive of our effort; however, few if any, seem willing to engage in a weekly commitment of any duration,” he said. “Interestingly enough, we get positive feedback from people who are immigrants from Iran and other countries.”

Consistent with history, it takes something big to move the masses.

The March on Washington in 1963 was a huge milestone in public involvement, especially among celebrities. With the rise of television and Hollywood, suddenly every star with a conscience and a cause took part in something.

Bob Dylan, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Harry Belafonte and many others showed up in the famous march.

Later of course there were ongoing protests involving civil rights and the Vietnam War, including Jane Fonda’s divisive trip to North Vietnam.

Despite Fonda’s high-profile protests, she also participated in acts of defiance closer to home. She once picketed a Safeway in Denver with the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee to protest the store’s anti-union policies.

Whether it’s environmentalism, AIDS, starvation or international conflict, celebrities have stepped up to help raise awareness, especially since the 1960s.

But is it working?

That’s a difficult question to answer and probably depends on who you ask.

Perhaps in most cases it doesn’t hurt. It gets people focused and motivated.

In the case of Danson, he is savvy enough to know that the fight is more than politics. In the long run, it has to be about something more.

“I would recommend keeping a light heart,” he told the cheering crowd. “Keeping love and joy in your heart is really important.”

Passion is good, he said, but not anger.

“You don’t have to talk politics,” he said. “Keep joy in your heart and fight like hell.”

It was a nice, feel-good sentiment for kindred spirits but I wonder if it’s enough to fill and sustain the ranks of groups like the peace vigil.

“I sure wish some of these people, of all ages, would consider joining the decades-old Laguna Beach peace vigil to flesh it out and keep the tradition going,” Chris Casegrillo said.

Perhaps they should reach out to Jane Fonda.

Or start riding horses through the streets of Laguna, channeling Paul Revere.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at hansen.dave@gmail.com.


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