You see, while the President, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would have you fear today’s protestors, they apparently ignore the fact that today’s protestors are driven by their own fears of them. And if you really believe that town hall questioners and Tea Party members are protesting mobs to be frightened of, let us look back at what was another time when political discourse did reach a breaking point. Let’s go back to the 1960’s and 70’s.
In between war protests and racial tensions those two decades probably epitomize what can be considered the most truly strained levels of political discourse in recent history.
Those two decades were marred by racial, political and socio-economic strife that were triggered by the slightest sparks and unleashed true mob rule, violence and even death.
Homosexual anger led to such events as the Stonewall Riots which set off a gay rights revolution after police raided the Stonewall gay bar in New York’s Greenwhich Village. Then there were also the White Night Riots which were triggered by an announcement of the lenient sentencing of Dan White, for the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and one of the first openly gay elected politicians of the time, Harvey Milk.
Racial tensions were responsible for most of the violent up rises our nation endured during this time. We saw the Watts Riots of 1965 which lasted 6 days in Los Angeles, California, in August of 1965 and claimed 34 lives, injured 1,032, and caused the arrest of 3,952.
Slightly less dramatic but equally profound race riots took place allover the US.
There were such riots in Rochester, New York where after police arrested a black man for public intoxication, rumors of brutality led to three days of rioting that only ended after Governor Nelson Rockefeller called in the National Guard.
Such scenarios of historic racial disharmony took place in every region of the nation, with riots in New York City, Buffalo, New Jersey’s cities of Plainfield, Camden, Jersey City and Newark, and throughout other states and cities from Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia to Maryland’s Cambridbge, and from Alabama to Michigan and Washington state and everywhere in between.
Then of course there were the riots prompted by the feelings over years of war in Asia.
On May 3rd, of 1971 one of the most disruptive war protests took place in Washington, D.C. over the Viet Nam War. Thousands of activists shut down the Federal government and what became known as the May Day Protests prompted President Richard Nixon to have D.C. inundated by thousands of Federal and National Guard troops and local police who, when it finally ended days later, arrested 10,000 people in the largest mass arrest in our nation’s history.
Then there was Kent State.
This event became known as the May 4th massacre.
After students of Ohio’s Kent State University organized an anti-war protest on campus, the tension of confrontation triggered National Guardsmen to suddenly fire 67 shots during what amounted to only a few seconds. The result was the death of four students and the wounding of 9 others.
That event eventually led to the Hard Hat Riot which took place in New York City on May 8, 1970 at one of the most important intersections in the world, Wall and Broad Streets.
The riot started at lunchtime in the City after 200 construction workers organized by the New York State AFL-CIO attacked about 1,000 high school and college students and others protesting the Kent State shootings, the American invasion of Cambodia and the Vietnam War.
Two hours after it began more than 70 people were arrested.
These are but just a few highlights of real political strife and violent discourse. Both of those decades were marred with far more though. There was the 1977 New York City blackout which triggered looting and riots, there were a number of infamous prison riots including Attica and scores of more examples of social uprisings.
This should help put the much talked about angry protestations that we see today in such things as town hall meetings and Tea Parties into perspective. For those who think that they have never seen us so divided and believe that we are on the brink of a total breakdown of society, think again and let history ease your concern.
Yes these voices are angry and yes they are serious but they are far removed from the “mob rule” mentality that existed in the 60’s or 70’s and that the left tries to pin on these modern dissenters.
The makeup of the demonstrations that we see today are not compromised primarily of hippy-like, free-love, ganja induced, Woodstockers. They are not dominated by the disaffected underprivileged youth driven by despair, inequality and poverty.
The men and women we see at local town hall meetings and organizing Tea Party protests online and in the streets from coast to coast and border to border are mothers and fathers, grandparents, businessmen and women, doctors, electricians, plumbers and housewives and husbands.
But beyond everything from the average backgrounds, social statuses and ages being different from the protestors of today and the rioters of yesterday is the important distinction between the political objections being aired.
In the 60’s and 70’s, with the exception of the issue of war, most of the strife was prompted by those who were calling for more government action and more federal intervention to close socioeconomic gaps and racial inequities.
In the case of war, oddly enough, today the left has dropped their long held protestations and sit silent as President Obama finds himself continuing the efforts that he once denounced President Bush for.
But in the case of social engineering and government programs, it is the right that has picked up placards and the cause of protest. As we close out the first decade of the new millennium the tables have turned. The cries from the streets are not from the liberal elements of society, they are from the conservative elements.
And just as the participants of left leaning demonstrations of yesterday were not all Democrats, not all the participants of the right leaning rallies of today are all Republicans.
But they are conservative. Not in the demeaning, mischaracterized, Archie Bunker, stereotypical sense but in the sense of having a deep rooted respect and understanding for the constitutional framework that governs the actions of our government.
Whereas the cry of the sixties was for peace and love, in the new millennium the new cry is for protection and freedom. Those on the right have learned that peace cannot be wished for, it must be preserved and they have come to realize that our government born out of the desire for freedom is taking freedom away from us.
One can elucidate on the technicalities that account for those opinions. We can get into the minutia of what the Tea Party protestors and angry town hall questioners want. We can get into the details of the practices and policies they object to and those that they want. But that is not necessary.
The sentiment these contemporary rebel rousers have and what they want is explained quite simply by stating that conservatives largely want nothing more than to be left alone.
They want to care for their families, mix and mingle with friends, go to work and earn their own wages and have government meddle in their business as little as possible. The fact that the government will not leave them alone has disturbed them deeply and as the new administration reloads its ideological guns and takes aim at their pockets, their food, their cars, their homes, neighborhoods, values, health and even the air that they breathe, they have become more than disturbed. They have become furious. Their patience has been more than tried and they have been pushed to the point of realizing that the only way for the government to leave them alone is to get involved as activists who fight against the government encroachment that they so despise.
While the 60’s and 70’s saw a majority of protests prompted to call for government intervention in society, the closing years of the recent decade see the majority of protests prompted by calls for less intervention in our personal lives. Thus proving that while some things may never change other things do. In this case the desire for people to protest authority remains the same but what they are protesting for has changed and so too has the makeup of those who are doing the protesting.
In some cases the very same hippy radicals of the sixties have changed. Now grown up and having had to live life in the real world, many have put away their mood rings, love beads, dashikis, lava lamps and bongs, shaved their beards and replaced their sandals and moccasins with wingtips and loafers. And some of them still find themselves protesting but for different treasons. This time they are protesting for the right to keep more of their hard earned dollars and to send their children to the school of their choice.
In other cases those who have never sought to rock the boat have been forced to do so now because they are sick of the disruptive waves that government is causing in their own lives.
In the seventies Richard Nixon claimed to be the leader of those who did not wish to draw attention to themselves through public demonstrations. He called them the “silent majority”. Forty years later some question if that majority is still indeed the majority but there exists no questioning of the fact that regardless of their numbers, they are no longer silent.
But while some things have changed and other things haven’t, there is no doubt that the tables have turned.
Yesterday a vast amount of public protests turned violent. Today they are predominantly peaceful. Yesterday it was a vast majority of those thirty and younger who took to the streets. Today it is a vast majority of those thirty and older taking to the streets and auditoriums of America. Yesterday there were fears that people were abusing their freedom and that civil disobedience was causing society to breakdown. Today there are fears that government disobedience is abusing people and tearing freedom away from society.
Through it all though it can easily be understood that the makeup and conduct of today’s protests do not warrant the fear mongering of the left who call the modern day dissenters of this administration “unpatriotic mobs” or dangerous radicals or evil Republican operatives. These moms and dads, these grandmothers and grandfathers, small business owners and professionals are not looting our streets, turning over cars, setting fires and throwing Molotov cocktails at National Guardsmen.
They are simply asking to be free and they simply want to be left alone.
That is what lies at the center of the peaceful yet angry political discourse we see today. That is what is at the core of today’s conservative movement and it begs to question if our government is so utterly stupid that they can’t understand what Vice President Biden would describe as four simple words………..leave me alone!?