Fear, Loathing, and Redemption at LAX

Matt Fried
Jan 30, 2017 · 7 min read

There was so much to not get hyped about; which is ironic given that Los Angeles is the birthplace of American hype. Whether it’s movies, TV, sports, video games, internet celebrities, energy drinks, legal drugs, palm trees, sunshine, or even a porn star who decides to blog for Vice — this city wants you to give a shit about anything, even when it’s absolutely nothing.

That was why I tempered my excitement, and decided not to Facebook Live traffic as it backed-up on the 105 leading to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) — the site of yesterday’s Protest Against Muslim Ban. Unlike The Women’s March, this protest had been hastily slapped together in the wake of Friday’s news: President Donald Trump signing an executive order to ban Syrian refugees and Muslims of select countries from entering the country for 120 days. In just over 24 hours, word shot through my Blue Facebook Feed that we were organizing — again — to make a stand. As highway traffic turned bumper-to-bumper, I couldn’t help but at least feel excited: How many of these cars carried travelers? How many of these cars carried fellow protesters?

It didn’t occur to me until I parked that this one could get ugly. Showing up at an airport is different than a public square: The Women’s March was a coming together of liked-minded people who all rejected Trump. LAX was an airport filled with mixed company arriving from all over the world. It also is — without question — one of the worst planned airports in terms of traffic. LAX makes The Fast and The Furious look like a Little Rascals soapbox derby. The cacophony of cheers and horns honked in solidarity undercut a fear I had of a confrontation; of one guy in a goatee — just off a bad flight from wherever — who had read too much Breitbart and had an axe grind on the skull of some liberal snowflake.

I got to the Arrivals level of Terminal 1 and was greeted with the complete opposite: a swarm of cheerful protesters assembling around me at the crosswalk; cars slowing down and honking in approval; bleary-eyed travelers blinking awake in time to yell support for us as they dragged themselves to a Hertz Rent-A-Car. I was swept up in crowd that marched towards the hive: Terminal 3 — Tom Bradley International Terminal. If someone was angry or pissed-off at the protest’s presence, I didn’t see it. People stepped out of the way for us, photographed us and cheered; a few women in hajibs raised protest signs with smiles and appreciation. Anyone who looked like they might’ve started trouble either looked the other way or tried to ignore us — which is not to say anyone wanted to see us put-down or hurt. But it’s been my experience that bigotry is a vampire that feasts in the night but runs scared in the sunshine.

Crowds soon coalesced as we reached Terminal 3 and people seemed to be vomited out of the entrances. Across the way, protestors holed up in the parking garage — hanging their homemade signs off retaining walls and waving American flags. Like the mighty tides in Malibu, more honking solidarity horns crashed down on the chants, “No Hate! No Fear! Immigrants are welcome here!” Even a police motorcade ran their sirens and threw thumbs-up at the crowd.

I remember as a teenager wondering what the ’60s must have been like; those stories I’ve heard of the world soaring on hope as Presidents Johnson and Nixon seemed to squeeze it away. Nixon, especially, personified as everything Americans could hate about The Right and the establishment. History — it seems — is repeating itself under the ignorance of President Trump. However: it’s not music or film or Rolling Stone magazine that gets young, angry Americans out of bed anymore. It’s social media, a thirst for intersectionality, and anger. I thought I knew anger during George W. Bush’s Administration: a Supreme Court-sealed skepticism that turned toxic with a war only the oil companies wanted. But the anger Trump has brought is different: it’s pure white-hot rage that reminds me of “Search And Destroy” by The Stooges. This anger unites generations, not just the young; Bernie supporters came out arm-in-arm with Hillary’s Nasty Women; it heralds not a revolution, but a call for common sense and decency. This lefty anger doesn’t trade in The Right’s doom and gloom. Unlike the election, there seems to be a singular narrative: love, acceptance, and the power of community.

As I drove down to LAX, I nearly ran my car off the highway listening to Meet The Press. Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Preibus spent 13 minutes explaining how much he seemed to not understand about his boss’s new executive order. Maybe it was just me, but his tone and framing seemed to indicate a power struggle in The Oval Office — perhaps between him and Steve Bannon. Then: he addressed The White House’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, which disassociated The Holocaust from Jewish persecution and stated that, “Everyone suffered in the Holocaust, including Jewish people…” with a thuggish, sneering, know-it-all sentiment that goes steady with entitlement. People like Reince Preibus are everything I hate about The Right, but they always have better PR and in turn: win elections. I wondered if the bad guys will always win, and we should just get used to it. But as I stood at LAX shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow Jews, Muslims, Dreamers, Women, and yes — even cisgender white dudes — I realized that hope is still very much alive in this country. Like Superman, rising from the rubble of his deathly battle with Doomsday, we just have to keep up with the latest issue and show up at the comic shop when it matters most.

I spent an hour at the airport floating through crowds, taking in the scene. On the lower Arrivals level, protesters gathered at the exit gate with police escorts to greet international travelers. Some of them were genuinely befuddled. Others — along with flight attendants — raised fists and chanted with us. On the upper Departures level, the sun shone through a glass ceiling on protesters staging a sit-in and passing around the phone number of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol PR office (562–980–3110). No one arriving for a flight was harassed or delayed, and no fights or police confrontations broke-out. I’ve never seen such peace amongst a large gathering. The Women’s March was the same: peaceful, polite, and above all — on message. We were there to be heard and set an example, not create chaos. It’s my genuine hope that we on The Left — and our various allies — don’t forget that as we grapple and fight back against this new status quo.

I returned to my car with many of the same protestors that arrived when I did. We shared a look with each other; that look of “Hey. That was pretty cool. We were part of history.” Of course: we were still in Los Angeles — the traffic getting out of LAX was ridiculous; billboards along Century Blvd still advertise self-medication in the form of theme parks and weed dispensaries. Not too far down the road, into Inglewood, the old Hollywood Park Racetrack had been razed for a brand-new multi-million dollar NFL stadium for The Los Angeles Rams — a team not many Angelenos seem to care about. Across the street from this new stadium: low income housing, fast food restaurants, check cashing offices, and the reborn Forum — shining like a diamond on a rich girl’s engagement ring.

Los Angeles is still aggressively consumerist, unapologetically greedy. But over the past two weeks of protests, I can’t say that the city doesn’t have a soul. People do care in Los Angeles; people give a shit about something — like human rights. Beneath the façade, the materialism, the desperation lies the will and voice of a people who know what’s right in the world.

It is unequivocally beautiful and uniquely American.

Matt Fried

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Matt Fried is a writer and sometimes producer, living in Los Angeles. His novel, The Survivalist, is currently available on Amazon and iTunes, http://amzn.to/2j