Protesting the Protest

Last night I ate at McDonald’s.  I was with a friend, and we settled into a booth at the revered restaurant inside our local Walmart, after having done some shopping.  It was welcome and easy and, needless to say, the taste was familiar and, admittedly, good.

While there, I observed a woman sitting with a coffee and a book, having a solitary but pleasant break from wherever else she had been that day.  The man behind her conversed periodically, and they seemed to know one another.  After a while, another man entered and sat down with her, announcing that he had just spoken with the Pope.  I believe he was kidding, but still, a bit of uncertainty hung in the air as he continued to speak loudly to her and anyone else close by.  The conversation was mixed with my own (between my friend and me), but eventually, it came around to include me. 

This man had opinions, most of which were hard-nosed and well-informed.  Neither of the two in that booth favored the recent health legislation, fearing that they were heading for less and not more.   This gentleman is also, according to his comments, an activist on many levels, including taking on the power company when it interfered with his ham radio operations.  He is a man of his word, and neither politician nor big business are off of his radar. 

He told us that he is a naturalized citizen, which apparently makes his dedication to America even more profound.  He embraces his rights and privileges with a vehemence that we don’t often recognize in those of us fortunate enough to have been born here.  We forget.  We take things for granted, and don’t always step out and take action to protect ourselves.

His love of country (adopted and revered) is to be admired:  his willingness to risk something in order to have what he feels he has earned by sharing the responsibilities of citizenship, for example.  He might have extreme beliefs, or not.  He was articulate and humorous, although by his appearance I judged him to be not affluent financially.  It could be my mistake.  It doesn’t really matter.

What I thought of later, though, was how much a politician might make of his all-American attitude, and perhaps offer praise for the exercises in freedom in which he has participated.  The same politician might not, however, offer the same praise of the folks who are demonstrating in opposition to the current administration’s legislative agenda.  The “Tea Party” participants have been so widely criticized and demeaned that I have to wonder if civic and activist voices are only valid when they look good in print for the politician who supports them.

I once protested with a group outside an event or office (so long ago I can’t remember) of then California senator Alan Cranston.  I was in an a-political group that had conservative leanings, and he was a huge antagonist to our mindset and list of causes.  I was only a freshman in high school, so it is safe to say that my own agenda was a bit thin, although I  had grown up reading my dad’s copies of the National Review.  Still, I can’t imagine that a bunch of high school kids mixed in with college age students presented any real threat to this man.  I had fun, though.  I wore the event like a badge.

So, back to the fellow in McDonald’s and his position, the politician and the tea party.  We really do have an extraordinary heritage to protect here in the United States of America.  If we are to revel in the freedom for self-expression that we celebrated in the 60’s as an archetype of free speech and the right to hold a demonstration, then why is it considered less than courageous when it is in opposition to this administration? 

In all fairness, if you want to be  the President of the United States, then you need to be willing to take some hits.  Holding the office doesn’t make one invulnerable to criticism or protest.  This is America.  Take it all into consideration, and don’t dismiss it as less than the outcry that it is.  If people can’t take to the streets in protest, regardless of the cause, and receive equal consideration for their concerns, then the process begins to erode.  When the president makes fun of your concerns, where is faith in the freedom to express them?

The man in McDonalds wanted to be an American citizen because he saw freedom to live his life as he chooses, to speak his mind and protest what he thinks is wrong.  Don’t we all feel that way?  Kids in the 60’s risked an end to their academic careers and, sometimes, physical harm when they protested our presence in Vietnam.  Some were enlightened, some were only in it for the melee it represented.  But it was a legitimate expression of concern for their own futures.  We look at that now and embrace it for the freedom it represented.  I hope we’re not done with that simply because politicians and comedians alike have tried to underplay its importance with rude implications and demeaning remarks.  Their similarities in stature are remarkable, and troubling.

I don’t know that I will ever take to the streets in protest.  If the cause is urgent enough, life changing enough…then perhaps I will.  I heartily approve of the process, though.  Sometimes I agree with people, sometimes not.  It doesn’t matter.  The right to a peaceful assembly is ours, and the theme is not for politicians to determine as worthwhile.  It is of importance to the participant, who has a right to express his or her concerns, anger or disapproval of whatever it is that drew them to that protest.  I am suspicious of the politician who can’t take the heat.

Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave, O’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

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