I made a silly mistake in class last year, and asked my students how many of them remember the riots that helped end the Vietnam War. Of the 40-some students, only one was old enough to remember those days of demonstrations, tear gas and arrests.
One thing I remember particularly from those days is the debate about the demonstrations themselves. Some people, generally labeled the “silent majority” questioned the legality of demonstrations. Others, generally labeled “liberal” or “communist,” depending on your perspective, said the demonstrations were part of a long-standing American tradition going all the way back to the Boston Tea Party.
Now, it looks like my students are having the opportunity to see, and perhaps participate in, new demonstrations, generally opposed to wall street and big banks. And just like 40 years ago, questions are being raised about locations, legality and legitimacy.
I’m hearing from some people that demonstrators should just be arrested, but I’m not hearing a whole lot about what they are actually doing wrong. Sure, they are blocking some traffic, and are apparently doing some serious camping out in parks.
But it seems as if some people are upset simply because the demonstrators are, well, demonstrating. The thought among some folks seems to be that demonstrating is somehow un-American, that protests and voicing opinions isn’t part of the American tradition.
Actually protests and demonstrations go all the way back to the founding of the country. Remember what we learned about the Boston Tea Party: Patriots were dissatisfied with British economic policies, so they protested by throwing tea into Boston Harbor.
But, let’s take a slightly different look: a bunch of vandals and juvenile delinquents destroyed private property, and they were so proud of what they did, they tried to blame it on innocent Native Americans.
Protests and demonstrations are part of the American way. We may not want to encourage them, but we certainly need to defend and protect them.
I’m Larry Burriss.