Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Boycotter Nate

Maybe he protests too much


Nate Livingston can flat-out talk. Some people have a gift of gab. He has the whole Santa's sack of filibuster, yak, blab, debate, argue and speechify. His river of rebuttals flows so fast it's easy to miss the contradictions that float by like rooftops and tree limbs in a flood.

He talked his way into talk radio, then talked his way out of his job by ripping his bosses at WDBZ.

He talked his way into the news by drowning out the mayor with a megaphone. Then he talked his way into jail by insulting the judge.

He has talked his way up from City Hall disrupter to co-chair of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, where he talks performers into boycotting Cincinnati.

No free lunch

So I asked him to lunch. He declined. He didn't mind having lunch with me, but he refused to break his boycott of downtown restaurants.

So we met at the Mercantile Library - a quiet place to learn something.

Here's what I learned: He wants Cincinnati to listen. "We think if we get our way the city will be a better place,'' he said.

He admires Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson - Hall of Fame pro talkers. And he thinks the boycott is succeeding. "We're not there yet, but we have awakened the conscience of the city. We've gone from just criticizing the system to offering solutions.''

Shutting down concerts that provide jobs for people the boycotters claim to help hardly seems like a solution to me.

But Mr. Livingston says, "I really don't believe there are people being hurt by the boycott.''

There goes a floating contradiction. How can the boycott be successful without hurting anyone?

Never mind, Mr. Livingston says, "We're doing everything we can to work this thing out.''

But when I ask about boycotters who use verbal abuse to try to incite violence, he says, "I don't think that happens.''

Besides, it's justified, he adds, describing the time he was pelted by kazoos at the World's Largest Chicken Dance. Really.

"People are just bothered by the notion that the boycotters are daring to challenge their comfort zones,'' he says.

Black and white

That's the essential Nate Livingston: a fingernail on a chalkboard in Cincinnati's comfort zone.

"We're doing what's right and people who are opposing us are on the wrong side and that's evil.''

He has zero respect for authority. Last week he asked the ACLU to sue the city for stifling protesters who shout obscenities and slurs at meetings.

But here comes another gnarly contradiction, bobbing in the muddy current. Last week, Mr. Livingston, advocate for unrestricted free speech, protested a menorah on Fountain Square. "I'm not against the menorah or the Jewish community,'' he said, "but just because you have the right to do something, that doesn't mean it's always a good idea to do it.''

Mr. Livingston is an intelligent man who talked his way into the big show. But he should stop yakking and listen to himself: "Just because you have the right to do something, that doesn't mean it's always a good idea to do it.''

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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