Suey Park, as Dan Choi

Dan Choi Atlantic cover

He was the man who some say singlehandedly brought down the military’s policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, placing his entire person in full view of the public. Wearing the Army’s dress blues and the stare of a disciplined infantryman on the cover of The Atlantic, Lt. Dan Choi became the face of a revolution that would allow millions of Americans the opportunity to serve their country without the ostracism that would come from being who they truly were.

His was a brand of courage; the kind of “truth to power” hardly seen anymore save for one-off political speeches and movie scripts. Choi had an ability to capture the attention of the nation, and he used it often, as The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana reported:

For 21 months—between his debut on The Rachel Maddow Show in March 2009 and the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2010—Dan Choi was not just the best-known spokesperson for the movement to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He was its emblem. A West Point graduate, a combat veteran, a fluent Arabic speaker, he was the kind of soldier the military should have been promoting instead of kicking out. In interviews and at press conferences, he was articulate and passionate, charming and funny.

“The issue needed a voice and a face to get the attention of the media, the military, and Washington,” says Nathaniel Frank, a historian at New York University and author of Unfriendly Fire, the pre-eminent account of gays serving under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “Dan Choi had a good understanding of political theater, a passionate attachment to his role as an activist, and a strong sense of righteous anger that he was unwilling to let go of.”

That righteous anger would eventually consume Choi entirely. His melodramatic antics during a federal trial last year over a simple violation of failing to “…obey a lawful order” after he and twelve others handcuffed themselves to the fence surrounding the White House was the denouement of a period in which he began to think of himself as being bigger than the work to which he gave so much. His name now reduced to a punchline after a breakdown in open court,

…Dan wakes up most days with nothing to do. After the sun rouses him from his spot on the couch, where he sleeps under his “affirmation quilt”—fan letters are printed on each square—he takes two capsules of Hydroxycut, a diet pill loaded with caffeine, and Wellbutrin, an antidepressant used to treat bipolar disorder. Sometimes he goes for a long bike ride or works out at the gym in his building. He attends fundraisers and art openings, occasionally in uniform. Now and then, he drives to Fire Island, a gay vacation destination off Long Island. He earns a living by giving speeches at $10,000 a pop, which the Gotham Artists agency arranges for him. He smokes pot—a lot of it, he admits. “I can’t tell the difference,” he says, “between being high and not.”

To understand Dan Choi is to understand Suey Park.

And we may have dodged a bullet.

No one should fear the 23-year-old “hashtag activist”, at which The Nation’s Julia Carrie Wong hints in her headline. Rather, one should fear the erosion of good faith that Park represents, given her collaboration with Michelle Malkin, a notorious Right-winger that wrote a defense of the World War II internment camps that shames this country even now. In seeking to give space to fresh faces eager to “share their own stories”, I loathe the enabling stupidity that many in the so-called progressive media have displayed in not once mentioning this blatant malfeasance, apparently checking basic journalism skills along with their “privilege” at the door. The point Colbert made about how disgusting and abhorrent Dan Snyder’s patronizing of Native Americans with his foundation was almost completely lost, due to this woman’s desire to take a movement and make it all about herself.

Dave Zirin does an amazing job of explaining precisely why failing to focus on Dan Snyder’s deplorable behavior is not an option:

There was the time he sent a public letter to fans stating that the “Red Cloud Athletic Fund helped design the team logo in 1971” only to have it revealed that this was a lie and the Red Cloud Indian School was virulently opposed to the name.

There was the time his minions, including hall of fame coach Joe Gibbs, promoted ESPN columnist Rick Reilly’s article about Reilly’s Native American father-in-law’s love of the name. His Native American father-in-law later said that he not only opposed the name and not only had Reilly misquoted him, but his dear son-in-law had refused to make a correction. There was the time the team aggressivly promoted the endorsement of Chief Dodson, “a full-blooded American Inuit chief” who loved the name and said, “We don’t have a problem with [the name] at all; in fact we’re honored. We’re quite honored…. When we were on the reservation, we would call each other, ‘Hey, what’s up redskin?’ We would nickname it just ‘skins.’” It turned out, as Dave McKenna wrote, Dodson was “not a chief, and probably not an Indian.”

What’s even worse is that Park was never serious about getting Colbert’s show ended in the first place…

In our conversation, Park admitted that despite the hashtag’s command, she did not want “The Colbert Report” to be cancelled. “I like the show,” she said. Instead, she said, she saw the hashtag as a way to critique white liberals who use forms of racial humor to mock more blatant forms of racism. “Well-intentioned racial humor doesn’t actually do anything to end racism or the Redskins mascot,” Park told me. “That sort of racial humor just makes people who hide under the title of progressivism more comfortable.”

But hey, all’s fair in starting a “very important Conversation”, right?

In terms of dealing with important political issues, emotional outrage is an addictive, fatalistic disease that evaporates rationality and reason, setting in its place confirmation bias, solipsism, and an inflated view of self. Loss is the mark of nobility; pain is the guide by which one’s worldview is shaped in manners devoid of nuance and substance, and often translates into searing bitterness.

Like Dan Choi before her, Suey Park represents the worst of what can happen when outrage becomes the vector by which one believes fame and fortune is just one moment of offense away. Civil discourse and good faith are of the highest order when seeking to make real change in society.

Without those things, you become just another “brand” taking itself way too seriously.


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