Protests in the 21st century

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Protests in the 21st Century
Protests in the 21st Century

We have reached the nadir of debate when I have heard people say that just seeing a bumper sticker supporting a particular candidate has caused them to feel that their life was threatened.

As a Silver Surfer like most of you, I went to university during the tumultuous late 60s and early 70s. I read daily of the SDS and the Weathermen; I remember clearly the Kent campus tragedy; I even attended a university where students burned down the local Bank of America.

All of this angst was aimed at ending the Viet Nam war and perhaps, to quote John Lennon, “give peace a chance”.

I had started my university experience a little later than many of my contemporaries as I had done a three year stint in the Army with posting in Viet Nam and Korea. I was not disturbed by student protests, rather thought them a trifle uninformed, but figured their right to protest was one of the reasons a simple infantryman like me served in the Army. I was more concerned with completing my studies and starting my life, that the protests and various student issues.

While I did not pay as much attention then as I could have, I have followed the recent rash of protests in this country more closely now. I have watched the “Black Lives Matter” movement, the movement to ban all references to those who fought for the South in our Civil War or were slave owners, and, of course, the more recent demonstrations by the National Football League players kneeling before the national anthem is played at each game.

What strikes me now, as it did a little some 50 years ago, is the combination of lack of listening and the zealous self-righteousness on either side of the protests. The issues brought up are critical issues today and should be seriously addressed. Unfortunately, those issues appear to be drowned out by the actions of those both for and against and the incivility common to each side.

No matter what side one is on, it appears that we have reached a point here where we are so convinced of our own correctness, that we feel there is no need to stop and listen to an opposing viewpoint. Not only are we right, but those opposing us must be either incredibly stupid or hopeless radicals. And not only are we convinced that we are correct, but we insist that the rights and feelings of others must be subordinate to our own feelings.

For example, I hear football players say that their kneeling before games means no disrespect to the country or those who served in the armed services. I am sure they are sincere and within their rights to take these actions. What I think they and others don’t understand is that just saying that there is no disrespect does not mean that others may sincerely and correctly feel disrespected.

I am convinced that should I or anyone else utter an expletive or racial pejorative followed by the words “I mean no disrespect” that would be solidly condemned, if not met with violence.

We have reached the nadir of debate when I have heard people say that just seeing a bumper sticker supporting a particular candidate has caused them to feel that their life was threatened. Or that merely seeing a Confederate flag on a truck caused nausea and fear. Wearing a T-shirt with a Christian slogan or support of a conservative cause to school can result in that student being expelled from that school.

Are there people in our societies that intentionally practice hate and undertake provocative acts just to incite? Are there people who overreact to those who hold views different than theirs? Sure there are and we’ll always have people on all sides who act and speak without restraint, civility, and good judgement.

But maybe it’s time to try to do something constructive about this. Maybe we Silver Surfers can contribute something based on our own experiences. I readily admit that I have no idea what it is like to be a black youth pulled over by a policeman just because I’m black. I also have no idea what it is like to be a policeman answering a call to sort out a confrontation in a housing project and being viewed as an occupying army. I have no idea what it is like to be the descendant of slaves and see a statue honoring Robert E. Lee on my college campus. Nor do I have any idea what it is like to be a descendant of a dirt poor tenant farmer who fought for the South in that horrendous war.

But I do know that unless calmer minds prevail and the issues are listened to and dealt with without the emotional tirades from both sides, this divisiveness and rancor will only increase as will the problems giving birth to the divisions.

So maybe we can speak out at town hall meetings and town forums. Perhaps write some letters to office holders and newspapers. We’ve been there and have the scars to prove it.

Maybe our voices will not be heard and we’ll be ignored as old fogies that don’t understand. But at least we won’t be condemned for silently watching our societies descend into chaos.

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