The cover story of Sunday’s Washington Post magazine is a supportive profile of radical-left activist “mogul” Andy Shallal, who now owns a series of “Busboys and Poets” restaurants in the D.C area. He is best known recently for being the enthusiastic sponsor of Weather Underground bomber Bill Ayers in his D.C. appearance days after the 2008 election.
But the Post’s puffy title for Shallal on the cover was “Democracy’s Restaurateur.” Deep in the story you learn who gave him that title: Ralph Nader.
It's tiresome that the socialists think "democracy" is a synonym for socialism, but they do. The author of the piece was Post reporter David Montgomery, a veteran promoter of “peace” activists in the “objective” pages of the Post. (In fact, Montgomery also profiled Shallal in 2006 as he created a mural at the hard-left Institute for Policy Studies. He was metaphorically "Michelangelo toiling over a political creation story in this think-tank Sistine Chapel.")
The title inside was “How Andy Shallal filled a hole with eating, activism & art.” Montgomery began by oozing over the Iraqi-American businessman: “At 56, tall and gregarious, he is Washington’s most successful entrepreneur-artist-activist. So few, in any city, excel in all three fields.”
Montgomery began by chronicling Shallal opening a Busboys and Poets in the leftish suburb of Hyattsville, Maryland. The radical celebrities arrive, and yet none of them is described as radical or even liberal (not in the large type on the front page!)
Cornel West is among the first to arrive, all the way from Princeton, in a gust of French cuffs, ungoverned hair, inspired riffs and bear hugs.
“My brother Andy!” he says. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
In swift succession follow Bernice Johnson Reagon, Marian Wright Edelman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and some 400 other members of the civil rights, antiwar, environmental, labor, arts and academic crowds.
They came to celebrate the radical life of Howard Zinn, whose "people's history" of the United States scours America as a dreadful center of global exploitation and imperialism. The magazine did allow the term "progressive reaffirmation" just before the jump to smaller type:
They’ve come for a heaping helping of cross-racial progressive reaffirmation, marinated in that ineffable Busboys recipe of communal tables and couches, groovy music, quirky slide projections, politically inspired art and a not-too-politically-correct menu.
“Isn’t that Andy’s genius?” author and emcee David Zirin asks the crowd. “At the end of the day, he brings together Thai dipping sauce and radical politics.”
The purpose of this evening in early autumn is fourfold and high-minded to within an inch of its life, as most Shallal productions are. It’s a fundraiser for the Zinn Education Project, based on the work of the late Howard Zinn, a mentor of Shallal’s, whose “A People’s History of the United States” is a touchstone of progressive pedagogy.
It’s also the dedication of the restaurant’s Zinn Room, with its huge mural by Shallal. The work is a collage, Shallal’s signature style, composed of famous dissenters and their words entwined with the four rivers of Langston Hughes’s poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”
And it’s the International Day of Peace, so Shallal has everyone fill out postcards with peace messages to President Obama. Finally, the festivities are edged with outrage over the approaching execution of Troy Davis, set for later this night in Georgia.
Drawing on words Shallal typed at the bar, he says to the group: “Tonight is our practical act of peace. We have gathered all of you, our peace community, to share, to inspire, to entertain and to feed. ... To remind ourselves that we are not alone in this never-ending quest.”
Not alone. It could be wishful rhetoric. Or it could be the essential piece of the collage that is Andy Shallal.
Later that night, Shallal drives from Hyattsville to the Supreme Court, where "about 100" are protesting the execution of Troy Davis. When word of the execution comes, Shallal mourns that "He's gone. We're living up to our cowboy image."
The story ended with Shallal taking the peace postcards he encouraged people to fill out to the White House gate, where he was enthusiastically received by an Obama aide:
Early the next morning, it’s time to deliver those peace postcards made out to Obama by the guests at the Zinn dedication. Shallal wasn’t kidding.
He stands in Lafayette Park, waiting for any allies to join him. Two do, both friends and Busboys regulars. Shallal strides purposefully across Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House gate. Cradled in his arms is a cardboard shoe box that he decorated with a peace sign and the words “Peace Not War.” A couple hundred postcards are inside.
By arrangement, Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement, meets Shallal, who presents the shoe box. “I’m glad to receive them,” Monteiro says. One of Shallal’s companions snaps pictures.
Shallal had invited the crowd of 400 at the restaurant the night before to make this gesture for peace. Having just these two is better than being alone.