Having lived through the 1960s, I became familiar with protests, sometimes through personal involvement, but mostly from the outside looking in. Whether I agreed or disagreed with a cause, it was interesting to see the methods used by groups to get attention. Some spoke before crowds of other protestors; some led them in song; some shouted slogans and marched with signs; and some joined arms to create human barricades. Peaceful protest was the most effective, but it often carried a price.
People were frequently arrested, and though it sometimes involved getting roughed up a bit, it was soon realized that getting arrested itself was one of the best attention-getting methods. To do so in support of a cause, citizens really did put something on the line.
But I had no respect for one group of protestors who lacked the imagination, courage, and initiative to act on their own. I’m referring to the hijackers―those who took advantage of someone else’s event, showing up to steal the limelight and draw attention to themselves for whatever reason. My feeling: smarten up, think for yourself, and come up with your own way to promote your cause.
Yes, it is a citizen’s right to protest, and there’s nothing illegal about horning in on someone else’s event. But when a politician or political hopeful does it, it comes off as a shamefully cheap stunt to get attention.
After all, politicians are, at least in theory, looking out for the greater good of the public. In my opinion, that’s not at all what local politician Karen Bisso was doing when she showed up on Plattsburgh’s TV station WPTZ during the recent Adirondack Challenge, an event used by Governor Cuomo to shine a very bright light on what the Adirondacks have to offer.
Here’s a snippet from the WPTZ broadcast: “Gov. Cuomo’s visit has certainly generated a lot of energy in town, but not everybody is happy about it. Some used the visit as a platform to speak their minds about gun rights. ‘I think gun rights are important to every person, but specifically in this area, you’ve got sportsmen. You’ve got people in rural America who have to defend themselves. It’s a God-given right to defend yourself,’ said gun rights advocate Karen Bisso.”
No one has to like Governor Cuomo. No one has to support him. But if you’re offering yourself as a representative of the electorate, you have to consider the public good. And like it or not, what Cuomo did was good for the public, good for the Adirondacks, and good for the entire North Country.
Had Bisso been paying attention and possessed an honest desire to help the region, she would have seen the interest generated by the governor’s pending, widely publicized trip to Indian Lake. She would have seen that interest further enhanced by adding the challenge race against Mayor Bloomberg.
Here’s a thought. For positive input, she might have considered fielding a Tea-Party entry in the race. It could have helped promote the region and offer some good-natured competition for her political opponents. Instead, she tried to hijack the event, calling attention to herself by citing a completely unrelated issue. Important, yes, but unrelated.
But in Bisso’s judgment, it was the best choice. To speak for her potential constituents, she chose to take an event whose sole intent was to promote the region―and instead taint it. Whether you care about guns, abortion, civil rights, whatever: have the creativity to protest without risking damage to something potentially beneficial to the overwhelming majority of the region’s population.
And what good did Cuomo’s recent visit do? No one knows yet, but the attention it generated is incredible. Try a simple Google search. For instance, use these words: governor’s challenge Cuomo Adirondack. Scroll through the first 20 pages of results and look at the urls to see where the newspaper websites and other media are based. From Plattsburgh to Florida to California to Washington State … it’s everywhere. It was online, in print, on radio, and television.
I was in New York City when the story hit the media, and the coverage was stunning. In a region with more than 16 million people, it appeared on city and New Jersey TV throughout the day on several channels. It was amazing to see such a positive representation of our region, praising the mountains and thankfully not mentioning the protestors. It appears they were a factor mainly in the regional media up north. The reports I saw on multiple stations in New York City were nothing but positive.
The event was likewise broadcast in every city across the state, featured in most newspapers (including the New York Times), and covered by most radio stations.
Yep, you’re darn right. You just can’t buy that kind of publicity―and you didn’t. It was provided courtesy of your governor and other officials, promoting an area where there are few votes to be won in a state of 20 million residents.
But if you hope to be elected some day, what a great opportunity for self-promotion, even at the event’s expense and the risk of diminishing its purpose. That was the choice to be made, and Bisso made it.
If you don’t know the region well enough that you can’t see the big picture―what the Adirondack Challenge could mean for the North Country―then how can you expect voters to trust your judgment on their behalf? Like the protests in the 1960s, sometimes it’s best to promote your cause in your own way, and not on the backs or coattails of others.