Last train to Washington

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Photo via Joe Biden, Facebook.
Photo via Joe Biden, Facebook.

During Holy Week, fundraising for democracy

"Let them go," President Biden said of the pro-Palestinian protesters who heckled him during a campaign fundraiser with former presidents Clinton and Obama on March 28 at Radio City Music Hall. This contrasted with Donald Trump's comment about protesters in 2016, "Knock the crap out of 'em."

I had the good fortune to attend the Radio City event thanks to a friend who was inspired by a commentary I wrote in February to make a large donation to the Biden campaign. He was out of the country, so he invited me and another fellow to represent him.

The event was packed with donors and surrounded by security. The controversies swirling on social media seemed light-years away as I was greeted by Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison and met the three presidents at the pre-event VIP reception. I was amazed by the number of staff required to pull off such an event. All were gracious and helpful.

The musical guests on stage included Lizzo, Queen Latifah, Ben Platt, Lea Michele, and Cynthia Erivo. Then Stephen Colbert interviewed the presidents.

President Biden's main message was simple: "Our democracy is at stake."

I don't know how the hecklers got into the place, but they were unable to dent the upbeat mood of the crowd. Their role felt similar to that of the backup singers earlier. The presidents' statesmanlike responses showed their skill and grace in handling disruption.

"You can't just talk and not listen," Obama said to the protesters. "That's what the other side does." Clinton emphasized Biden's support for Palestinian self-determination and a two-state solution. Contrariwise, as James Risen writes in The Intercept, "Donald Trump and his MAGA cult of Christian nationalists would never force Israel to accept a ceasefire — or a Palestinian state."

The protesters refuse to confront the tangled reality of a long-running war, not to mention the terrorist attack by Hamas that started the latest violence. As I walked down Sixth Avenue after the event, screaming protesters accused me of supporting genocide. I told them they were wrong and were not helping their cause.

Truth be told, however, their cause is not actually to help Palestinians, but to gain the satisfaction of screaming at Democrats. This is the Left's politics of subtraction, in which they denounce anyone who doesn't completely agree with them. The idea is that when the Republicans win, things will be so bad that it will set off the Revolution the leftists dream about. In fact, what we actually got after Trump's 2016 win was a right-wing supermajority on the Supreme Court.

Even after leaving the massive police turnout behind, I felt entirely safe walking to Penn Station to take the last train to Washington. Despite a light rain, the city was bustling at 11:00 PM.

One guy stood across from Madison Square Garden pointing up at a photo of singer Billy Joel on the side of the building with a caption that it was the 100th concert of his residency there. I said to the guy, "A hundred? You don't look older than 40." He said, "You wanna fight me?" I said, "No, I'm just a smartass." He said, "I bet I could beat you." I said, "I'm sure." Then I turned and followed the sign, "To Trains."

New York felt like a big, friendly welter of barely-controlled chaos. It's all a bit much, but it works if you just go with it.

Back in DC on Holy Saturday afternoon, emerging from the Metro on my way home from a family Easter gathering, I saw a few hundred people demonstrating around the Dupont Circle fountain. A woman led chants with a megaphone; several people waved Palestinian flags. I was able to make out "End the occupation now!" and "Revolution!" repeated several times. I did not hear "from the river to the sea," widely understood to mean abolishing Israel. Then I headed down P Street toward home.

With the sounds of chanting and drumming receding behind me, I encountered an older man standing outside his house smoking and looking in the direction of the Circle. "They're calling for revolution," I said to him, "so stand back." He replied with a laugh, "I will indeed."

Six thousand miles away in Gaza, children starve while Hamas leaders refer to "the Zionist entity" and Netanyahu responds to war crimes with more war crimes. Closer to home, the Republican presidential candidate says migrants are "poisoning the blood of our country."

As humans, we have more work to do.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at [email protected].

Copyright © 2024 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.