Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Change is the message Barack Obama projected during his campaign, so the timing is right for a national transformation. What kind of transformation? Consider the failed institutions of today ” unregulated capitalism, the war machine, energy, education, environmental protection, health care. These are strong starting points.
The last time such an atmosphere dawned on this country was during the rebellious Sixties, when demonstrations and protests stirred the body politic. Given a license for change in America, where are the demonstrations and protests? There was some dissent at the Democratic convention in Denver, but it was pointless. As one Sixties organizer said, “Any movement without thinking and a program is a bowel movement!”
Time Magazine reported recently on protests targeting coal-fired power plants in Kansas and West Virginia, which fits right into Al Gore’s advocacy on climate change.
“I believe we’ve reached the stage,” said Gore, “where it’s time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal-fired power plants that do not have sequestration.”
Issues worthy of civil disobedience are plenty: cutting old-growth timber, gas and oil drilling on roadless wildlands, inhumane farming practices by agribusiness, illegal torture, conspicuous consumption, military recruitment at public schools, etc.
There’s nothing un-American about it, either. Protest follows a hallowed tradition championed by Thomas Jefferson, who advocated for regular purges of established institutions as a means of keeping democracy pure. “The tree of liberty must be watered regularly with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” said Jefferson.
So what’s there to protest in the Roaring Fork Valley? If you don’t like climate change from coal-fired power plants, then protest the next monster home going up. If you can’t stop the source of the pollution, then confront the consumer who enables that pollution.
Don’t like imported oil? Protest gas-guzzlers and motor sports. Protest bad consumer choices at the grocery store, the car dealership, the home supply store. Evaluate your family’s carbon footprint. Does your household consume goods and services that damage the biosphere and limit the future your children will face in a warmer, less species diverse planet? There’s plenty of change that can begin at home.
Protest is a dynamic way to outwardly question the way we live, which is usually left up to the youth who realize that this is no time for convenience, no era for laziness, no epoch for ignorance. Protest is a way of making ourselves and the people in our lives accountable for the legacy we leave to the voiceless, powerless future.
Effective protests should be more than single-issue events. They should tap an underlying value system that’s being short-changed, like environmentalism, peace, racial equality, the equitable distribution of wealth. An effective protest should broadcast a point of view that expands awareness of social issues. That’s what made the Sixties so potent ” exposing Americans to new ideas and viewpoints, often through media-covered protests.
There are degrees of protest. In public parades there is often an element of street theater, where messages are amusing and picturesque. Civil disobedience ratchets up the intensity with sit-ins and human chains. Violent protests are the most provoking and the most injurious, like the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, which devolved into a police riot and brought more division than unity.
Society doesn’t like protests, so it coddles conformity, which is an obstacle to societal advance. Protest is a form of activism, which is a hallmark of the democratic process of enlivening the population, bodily. And it’s not restricted to youth.
If we are truly at a time of change, then some of that change could occur through creative, mass-inspired demonstrations necessary to awaken the nation to pressing issues. Through the ages, constructive protests have also been vital for galvanizing a nation’s youth, which could be the most important result of all.
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“If I was moving through the herd, the others would begin walking away, some of them at a jog, taking their calves with them, but the big brown ungulate would face me sideways, reluctant to move, not wanting to give any ground,” writes Tony Vagneur.