Playing at Protest: Lander and Menchaca Smile at the Nice Policeman

Councilmembers Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca got themselves arrested yesterday as part of a demonstration against a car wash in Park Slope.  Marching in support of a lawsuit that eight employees of the Vegas Auto Spa have filed against the owner of the car wash, the elected officials blocked traffic and were removed by the NYPD in what Lander called an act of “civil disobedience.”  Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito participated in the protest but did not subject herself to arrest.

Civil disobedience is how people respond to repressive authority when politics has failed them.  It is an act against the state.  But Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca are elected representatives and agents of the state, and furthermore are part of the ruling clique.  In what sense are these powerful elected officials in a position to perform “civil disobedience” regarding a labor dispute between the employees and owner of a decrepit car wash?

Yesterday’s action brings to mind the farcical protest of a few months ago, when two dozen councilmembers blocked traffic on lower Broadway to protest the Eric Garner decision, held a die-in on the steps of City Hall, then went inside to participate in the scheduled Stated Meeting.  The point of civil disobedience is that there is some risk to the participants--30 days in jail, getting beaten up, at the very least a fine—in order to demonstrate their dedication to the cause.  Watching a bunch of legislators enact a zero-cost charade of civil disobedience, when they are actually the ones in charge of the city, is the ultimate sign that politics in our one-party city is totally empty. 

Even Mayor de Blasio praised the councilmembers’ feckless manifestation, citing proudly his own “civil disobedience” arrest in 2013 when he protested the closing of Long Island College Hospital—which wound up closing anyway, after he was Mayor. 

The problem with the Progressives is that they can’t admit they are in charge, because their whole mission is an endless uphill battle against the forces of reaction.  So Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca smilingly pantomime the gestures of revolution, while the police whom they control go along with the charade of arresting them for the cameras.