This year has seen more than its fair share of news about political and social upheaval, from invasions and military campaigns to political and economic protests. Russia invaded Ukraine, while America continues an expanded drone operation. Scotland put a measure on the ballot to sever itself from the United Kingdom, and in Hong Kong, larger and larger numbers of people are in the streets looking for a chance to rule themselves. Lastly, protests in Venezuela and Brazil questioned the power structure and wealth inequality in those nations.
Here in America, we’ve seen several men killed in cold blood by the very police force whose existence is designed to protect us from random acts of violence. In Detroit, which is no longer even run by elected officials, the city is shutting off water to thousands of people. Movements across the country are calling for a higher minimum wage, particularly in the ludicrously profitable fast-food industry. For the first time in years, it seems like the popular revolt in America is turning against actual abuses of state and corporate power.
This outrage and anger at a world that seems to be teetering on the edge of being unmanageable even made it to Charleston — the most polite city in the world or the best city in which to book a vacation, take your pick. But what happened to force the citizens of this fair city to turn ugly? To begin to question the leadership of their elders and, gasp, even to think that maybe “young” people should be in charge of city government?
It wasn’t a police-involved shooting. It wasn’t a spontaneous outburst of support of the working class. It wasn’t a sudden desire for more direct democracy in communities and neighborhoods. No, it was a proposed city ordinance that would change how new businesses that sell alcohol operate. For Charleston’s residents, it was the notion that city government might choose to change how they license bars that finally motivated them to get “political.”
That’s right, Charleston. You’ve turned up to fight against the call for you to turn down. Congratulations on finally finding a cause that forces you to run to Charleston City Council meetings and committee sessions in droves — not for justice, not for peace, not for the rights of people who are not like you. But for your right to get staggeringly drunk into the early morning hours at an ever-increasing number of watering holes and hipster-friendly, faux-dive bars.
Well done, Charleston, you’ve pretty much officially managed to divorce yourselves almost entirely from reality. I’m not usually one to accept the notion of so-called First World Problems, but in this case — and with so many other issues in the world to think about — it certainly seems to apply here.
And it’s not the first losing — and ultimately meaningless — cause some of you have managed to get behind this year. A similar outrage erupted at the College of Charleston over the selection of Glenn McConnell as president of the school. Worried about having a Confederate flag supporter and Civil War re-enactor as president and what that might say to future employers, the students held protests — with signs and chants and everything! — and then promptly signed up for another semester. CofC faculty supported the protesting students and then continued accepting a paycheck from a school whose administration and management they said they had no confidence in. That’s really saying something, Charleston.
I suppose I should find some comfort in the fact that there’s at least some level of political awareness going on around here that makes people do something, even if only for a few days and even if the cause is, well, maybe not so noble.
It isn’t that you should not be upset about city government’s attempt to correct its own errors and missteps through a series of heavy-handed and draconian measures — you certainly should. And you certainly should be upset that the city has been mismanaging how bars and restaurants are licensed for years. But the City of Charleston is not alone in the blame.
The overgrowth of bars and restaurants on the peninsula also has its roots in the actions of the private developers who saw the food and beverage industry as a viable way to raise property values on Upper King and elsewhere without much concern for how it affected nearby neighborhoods and the overall community.
So, by all means, I say continue this protest. But if you’re going to tie it to loftier goals such as livability or wages or “freedom,” then put your protest into deeper issues as well. Those issues are out there, Charleston, and you really don’t have to look hard to find them.