I wasn’t planning on writing about this topic, and I realize it’s a bit of a shift from my other postings, but I felt compelled to comment. Hey, sometimes you’ve got to get something off your chest and hope it starts a meaningful conversation. Perhaps you’ll read it and let me know your thoughts.
On Tax Day last week I was driving my son to preschool as is our regular routine (although I usually have my daughter with me but she was at home with Mommy). I had heard some “news” about these tax protests, which were officially being called “Tea Parties” and in other more mature corners of the media were being dubbed “tea bagging parties.” If you watch ABC and CBS and networks of their ilk you probably heard very little about these demonstrations and what you did hear was probably disparaging and negative.
In any case, as I was driving it occurred to me that these protests would make a wonderful opportunity to teach my kids the sanctity of our rights, as Americans, to peaceful assembly and free speech. As a dad and as an American, this is very important to me so I made the executive decision to skip preschool for the day, pick up the rest of my family and proceed to the nearest protest. We were going to our first family tea party.
If you didn’t attend one of these rallies and you depended on the news media for information, I’m sorry to tell you but the unruliness reported is a huge exaggeration if not an outright prevarication. I can’t speak for all the protests but I would describe the one I attended (and this was one of the major sites with about 7,000 people in attendance) as a peaceful and energetic gathering of people who seemed to be saying the same thing: they want a limited government, not a massive expansion of Big Brother. I saw black people there, white people, young and old, male and female. I saw dudes in suits and others with dreadlocks. I saw parents with their kids and I listened to some inspiring speeches. What I saw were Americans who were genuinely concerned about the direction in which their country is headed.
Did I see any violence or inappropriate behavior? Let me put it to you this way: I’ve seen more violence and poor behavior at a Pop Warner football game. How did the Tear Party demonstrations compare with the recent G20 Summit protests or anti-Bush rallies? Say what you will but I NEVER SAW THIS AT THE TEA PARTY.
I took my family to the protest to demonstrate what a wonderful country we live in; that ours is a nation in which you can protest the government and not be thrown into a gulag (at least not yet). The goal was to teach my kids that their right to protest was an unalienable right and they could make a bold but peaceful statement. As I stood there with my son on my shoulders I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride that we were participating in an integral part of the political process, that we were exercising our right under the First Amendment. “Daddy,” he said, “this is cool!”
However, this sense of pride was substituted with feelings of frustration and disbelief when I watched news coverage of the events. Most of the stories were hostile, scurrilous and offensive. Some cable networks and news programs labeled these protests as “not fit for family viewing” and “anti-government” and “anti-Obama.” Of course the usual Tinsel Town twits got in on the act. One Hollywood personality, whose name does not deserve mention, opined that anyone who attended these rallies is a racist. All of these descriptions would be laughable if they weren’t so utterly dangerous. And whether or not you’re liberal or conservative, if you’re an American you should be concerned. Look, I realize no one wants to read about this stuff because it’s nasty politics but it’s time we pull our heads out of the sand and start looking at our country through a logical lens.
If my son watched the news coverage, what would he think of himself? That he’s an angry racist or dangerous right-wing extremist? If he began to believe what he heard, think he’d ever protest again? Is this the lesson we want to teach our kids, to fear reprisals for speaking out? That if you disagree with the government, at least the current one, you’re some sort of anti-government nut ball? Do we want to teach them to be free thinkers or to fall in line with the rest of the sheep? Do we want to teach them to fight for what they believe or to live in disciplined silence? Do we want to teach them what is right or what is expeditious? Do we want them to live or to simply exist? It’s crazy to me that liberals, who hail themselves as the protectors of tolerance and the true agents of change, would openly harangue anyone for protesting anything. Better yet, they completely dismiss the event as a right-wing conspiracy or refuse to acknowledge it at all. Apparently Obama was not even aware of the protests. Hard numbers are tough to ascertain but I think it’s safe to say that attendance throughout the 800-plus cities where protests took place was in the hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands of protesters and the president didn’t know this was going on? Wow, that’s really just shocking. Are politicians supposed to listen to the people or are the people supposed to listen, without protest, to the politicians?
It seems to me that when liberals protest they are considered revolutionaries; when conservatives protest they are called racists. It’s still en vogue to openly call our recently retired president a war criminal. In fact, you’re immediately considered an intelligent person by so doing. But disagree with the current administration on any issue whatsoever and you’re a racist? I’m confused. We openly cheer for people in foreign countries who rebel against oppressive regimes but here in America if you are a perceived contrarian you’re brushed aside as a bigot and labeled an “angry white man”? To categorically label the massive number of protesters, people of different races, religions, sexual orientations and the like, as “angry white men,” is not considered racist? Disagree and you’re a dangerous right-wing extremist? Protest and you’re castigated? Seriously folks, is this the society we wish to bequeath to our children? Is this the new social order we wish to leave as our legacy? Be careful for what you wish.
Look, there is much hypocrisy in our society, double-standards that don’t apply equally to the two main political philosophies. I’m not interested in enumerating all such hypocrisies here (I have to get to bed, it’s 2 AM!). Besides, a closed mind can never be a changed mind. The point I’m making is that although we may disagree, although we may come from differing points of view, it’s our quintessential duty as Americans to protect each other’s right to express an opinion without being labeled a racist or hate monger or extremist. As the old saying goes, I may not agree with what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it. To be fair, both parties have engaged in attack-style rhetoric. However, doing so only emboldens those you are attempting to silence and at the same time unveils your own ignorance. Resorting to ad homonym attacks is a desperate and ineffective strategy that does nothing but to make fence-sitters think that the ones you name-call might actually have a legitimate cause or point. If we disagree it doesn’t mean we have to hate. Our nation was founded on the principle of protest and our right to do so is, thus far, protected under the Constitution. Protest is not a bad thing; it’s a good thing and when done respectfully it can even be a purposeful thing. Why so many from the left are calling these protests “unhealthy” and “dangerous” should be insulting to anyone who calls him or herself an American. Comments like these are dangerous! One can never fear retribution for protesting against a government. Should that happen then America ceases to be. Guard with all your will your right to speak and assemble freely. At least that’s what I hope to impart to my kids.