Comments & Curiosities: Planning for a protest

Ever been to a protest? I haven't. Not on the protest side anyway.

We've all seen protests — people shouting, waving signs, burning stuff, yelling "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" That kind of thing.

I don't get too stressed about things, and never enough to march down the street with a sign yelling things. Plus the things I do get amped up about aren't that interesting to most people. "What do we want? Cannoli! When do we want 'em? Now!" That doesn't work. Nobody does that.

But in the last few weeks, there have been a number of protests right here in the Newport-Mesa land that are both reminiscent of and very different from what I think of as protests. Keep in mind I went to college in the '60s — the Golden Age of protests — civil rights, the Vietnam War, bras.

As an ROTC cadet at the University of Arizona and then an Air Force officer, I saw my share of protests and heard plenty of shouting. It was wild and wooly. Riots, huge demonstrations, the Chicago Seven, Timothy Leary, don't trust anyone older than 30, etc., etc.

So it was a little bit of déjà vu all over again to see not one but two street protests around here in just two weeks — one in Santa Ana, the other in Costa Mesa. Both were aimed at Arizona's new immigration law and Costa Mesa's resolution declaring itself a 'Rule of Law' city. But these protests were very different from the ones that I remember.

In Santa Ana, on June 3, protesters lay down in the street in a perfect circle, arms extended, hands locked together. I thought it was very stylish — kind of a Busby Berkeley/June Taylor Dancers/immigration protest thing.

But protests have also gone high-tech since the '60s. Not only were their hands chained to a heavy rope, but they were hidden inside lengths of PVC pipe that were taped to the rope with enough duct tape to circle the globe, twice, which leads me to believe that these might have been immigration rights/engineering student activists.

Rope, locks, PVC and duct tape need way more planning than grabbing a Joan Collins tape, a little weed and the effigy of Richard Nixon before hitting the streets.

Tuesday evening, as I was wending my way north on the 405 Freeway, which I do a lot, I noticed the Bristol Street off-ramp was empty, as in nobody, which was very odd, and there were two police cars are blocking the ramp, facing the wrong way, which was odder.

What I couldn't see was that a group of protesters had set up a long picnic table right smack in the middle of Bristol Street and were seated around it in white resin chairs and — shades of the Santa Ana protest — hands locked to a rope then hidden inside PVC, ten miles of duct tape, with the added touch of taping their ankles to the legs of the chairs.

OK, fine. But here is my question. How do you do all this? You and 11 buds are standing at a light on Bristol Street. You've got a picnic table, resin chairs, locks, rope, a 7-foot roll of duct tape and signs that say, "Dry Heat Or Dry Wind? Arizona Blows" and "There Is No Room in America for the Rule of Law."

With a zillion cars, trucks and buses zooming by and turning in and out of South Coast Plaza, what do you do exactly? Do you just drag everything into the street, start setting up and ignore the horns blaring and brakes screeching?

"Excuse me, sorry, sorry — just be a second, sorry; it's the racism thing, sorry. Can you move your bus up a little? More, more, little bit more — stop, that's good."

But I have to say, this idea of expressing your outrage while you're sitting around a picnic table in lawn chairs is a huge advancement over the '60s. For one thing, you can grab a bite while you're protesting. In fact, you could do the whole thing as a potluck. Everybody brings their own locks and duct tape and gets assigned wine, antipasto, main course or dessert.

Keep in mind 12 protesters were arrested at the Bristol Street protest. By the time you get transported to the police department, get fingerprinted and have your mug shot taken, it could be hours before you get something to eat. You could even do protest placemats, with quotes and slogans and the "Top 10 Reasons to Boycott Arizona."

I think that's it. Arizona, Timothy Leary and protest potlucks. Hold on to your beliefs, stand up and speak out in the face of injustice, and just because you're outraged doesn't mean you can't make it fun. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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