The socialist, union-loving protesters in D.C. not so receptive to a working artist

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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A couple protests were held over the weekend. The demonstrators were yelling and screaming something about solidarity, supporting the Wisconsin teachers’ unions and the state’s 14 Democrats who ran away to Illinois. Or it could have been about abortion rights. All artist Ray Voide knew was that they weren’t a very art-friendly crowd.

A large roundabout in downtown D.C., the DuPont Circle park attracts all types of people. It has park benches, chess tables and plenty of open grass for laying out. At its center is an impressive fountain featuring Rear Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont. It’s a prime hangout spot for gays when the sun goes down.

Because of its location and space, DuPont Circle is also a popular location for protests. This means regulars — like Voide, whose been coming to DuPont everyday for the past six months to work on his craft — often get pushed to the park’s perimeters.

As the union-supporting protesters waved signs about solidarity and growled through bullhorns, Voide had his pieces displayed on the park’s outlying benches. He works in several mediums — acrylics, pencil, crayon — and he had about 30 pieces on display that day, hoping somebody might be willing to make a deal. No such luck.

“I thought they’d be much more receptive,” said Voide, who despite having a few protesters slow their pace, didn’t sell anything. “Nah. Nope. Which is unusual, because Saturday is a better day for me.”

Voide’s a full-time “working artist,” who came to D.C. from Vermont six months ago. He’s begun several pieces focusing on DuPont Circle as it endures another year of protests. So what does Voide think of the protests?

“I believe in their cause, except for the union part of it,” said Voide. “I think unions are some of the laziest people I’ve ever known. That union crap doesn’t interest me. But the taxation part does, where big business can get around paying taxes. And the average American pays through their nose.”

It’s was hard Saturday to understand what the protesters were really yelling about. There’s was a sign about the Wisconsin 14 and another that explicitly made fun of Tea Party activists. Voide said that the union protesters were much more vocal than the Iranian protesters last week.

“There seems to be a couple people in particularly that they’re focusing on. Scott somebody or other. And there was one other name mentioned that I don’t recall,” he said.

It’s hard to blame Voide for being unsure as to what exactly the protesters wanted. A few hours before that rally, nation-wide sit-in protests at Bank of America branches was organized by US Uncut, which was about “taking action against unnecessary and unfair cuts to public services across the US.”

The noon union-centric rally, ostensibly called the “Rally to Save the American Dream,” was organized with the help of, which used to be all about the Iraq war. About an hour into the protest, some of the proud participants began marching toward the White House, shaking their signs as they held up traffic.

Right-wing critics could be excused for accusing union-supporters as being a bunch of commie-socialist sympathizers because, in fact, the local Socialist Workers organization was on hand Saturday to show its support. Sort of.

As the union protest morphed into a march to the White House, the Socialist Workers remained, along with their homemade signs and bullhorn. Except they were there to protest women’s abortion rights. Their signs said things like “Free abortion on demand, No Apologizes” all with written underneath.

“The abortion protesters had one planned, too,” said the eager young socialist at the group’s information table, which was stacked with books and pamphlets. “I guess they just combined the two protests. If you have two separate things, you should fight for all of it — solidarity. The public workers as well as the right for women to have abortions.”

“Would you like a copy,” she said as she proffered a copy of the socialist weekly newspaper, “The Militant.”

After taking the rag, the young socialist brought out a subscription form and began pushing TheDC to fill out the six-month, $20 subscription. Immediately. TheDC offered to take the form and fill it out later, but the young socialist kept at it. What about $5, for a 12-week introductory deal?

“Do you have any larger bills you can break?” she asked.

Completely out of cash, TheDC began walking away but was stopped by the young socialist.

“The paper’s a dollar,” she said, pointing to folded-up Militant. “You don’t have any money?”

It was a bit of a shock to be given a newspaper and then hounded for money after speaking with Voide. The local artist is unassuming. He sits besides his pieces and doesn’t push anyone to buy anything. He let’s people take their time and if asked, will give details about the pieces. If someone is really curious, he’ll give a price. As for the protesters making a big stink … meh.

“I think they’re so involved in their protest that I’m kind of a back-burner thing,” he said.

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