After graduating from high school in the summer of 1968, I spent my first two years of college on the campus of a brand new junior college in Denver. It was a great time for a young man to be in college, because if you were not a student it probably meant a trip to Vietnam. Many of my high school friends were drafted and a few did not return from Southeast Asia. It seemed that every newscast and newspaper began with a story about an increasingly unpopular war.
Because of the times, one of the frequent occurrences on our college campus was organized war protests. At least every Friday afternoon and occasionally one or two weekdays there were students holding signs gathered around a speaker with an electronic megaphone and a lot of chanting. Sometimes, the protests got a little frisky because there was a sizable number of Vietnam veterans on campus who were not very sympathetic to the protestors. It was a small campus so no more than one or two policemen were required to keep things calm.
Protesting is something I have always understood. I have seldom been shy about speaking up when I disagree or sense the need for a change. Organizing a protest has proven to be very effective at times. It is a way for a powerless minority to gain a hearing and make a point. If you don’t think that protesting can be a good thing, try telling that to the organizers of the Boston Tea Party or to my college contemporaries who expedited an end to the Vietnam War.
Beginning on September 17 of this year, a movement called “Occupy Wall Street” was launched. The purpose was to protest the influence of corporate America on government decisions. It was also intended to call attention to the growing disparity between the affluent and the rest of us. Within a month, the protest that began in New York City, spread to seventy major cities and six hundred communities around the country.
During the past month there has been a great deal of discussion about the efficacy of the Occupy Movement. It has not always been clear what they are protesting or if the protestors have specific goals in mind. But, I do support their right and willingness to stand up to something they consider important. Certainly I do not condone any violence but it seems that violence eventually becomes a part of any protest – remember Kent State, Mississippi in 1964, and the American Revolution.
It does not matter if I agree or disagree with the goals of the Occupy protestors, I do agree with their method of staging a protest. I applaud their willingness to take a stand when they believe something could be better. I also support those who disagree with the protestors. They also have a right and responsibility to take a stand for what they believe in.
The thing that bothers me the most is that so many are critical of the Occupy Movement, not on the basis of the issues at hand, but simply because they don’t like the method of protesting. It is like they believe protesting is un-American. Essentially what I hear many of them saying is that if you take to the streets you do not love this country.
In the newspaper this morning, there was a story about the police being called because of a disturbance caused by Occupy protestors. Apparently a young man was playing an acoustic guitar and singing in the park while other protestors were sleeping. Three patrol cars were dispatched and eventually the man was arrested on an outstanding traffic warrant. This event did not take place in a quiet suburban neighborhood but in a downtown park, surrounded by high rise buildings. Perhaps a bit of overreaction?
If we ever raise a generation that does not have the willingness and conviction to take to the streets over important issues we will be in trouble.l Often, the only way to get the attention of those who are content with the status quo is to make them a little uncomfortable. Public debate is a healthy thing and it should never denigrate into name calling, accusations of guilt by associaton, or mean-spiritedness.