Melanie wrote in her comments about the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein: "One is left to wonder whether the Iraqi people were "encouraged" to topple the statue, or whether it was, indeed, a spontaneous moment. What do you think?"
Actually, when I was watching the event (over and over and over and over again) on American television yesterday, I recalled a "spontaneous" street protest moment I experienced in 1994. It was on the occasion of the first Jeb Bush (yep, that Jeb Bush) and Lawton Chiles debate during the gubernatorial race in Florida. We were in Tampa. CNN cameras were there. I was among the members of Tampa NOW who were with the Chiles supporters. The Bush supporters were protesting across the parking lot. We were being kept apart.
Jeb's limo arrived and someone yelled, "There he is." The next thing I knew we were running across the police barrier and surround the limo shouting and waving our placards. The police pushed us back (actually most of us returned to our side of the road with one warning from the police). Everyone was excited. We were on television. We had made a statement.
After the debate, Jeb never materialized. The word went out that he was afraid to come back to the street and snuck out through a parking garage. Lawton Chiles came over and shook our hands. We were estatic -- Jeb didn't even say hello or wave at his supporters. He was too afraid. We were victorious. Even CNN suggested that Chiles had been energized by the crowd and Bush had lost points because he didn't seem to connect with voters. Many suggested that the debate was what won Chiles the vote in the close election. We were not only victorious, we were influential.
A couple of days later, I was talking with the local chapter leader and she told me all about the plan -- apparently the storming of the limo had been discussed and planned with "ringers" in the crowd to create the spontaneous moment. I felt cheated. I had truly been swept up in the moment and thought it was a rush of political passion that had created that moment. For me, that was true, but to find out that it was planned moment felt wrong. We had been tools in the media spin.
I tell this story because I cannot help but wonder if the media event we witnessed yesterday wasn't exactly that -- something sincere and real to the people on the streets who witnessed the event and got swept up in its symbolic power. However, that sincerity could very well have been manipulated.