Protest is a Fundamental Right and a Responsibility
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
― Henry David Thoreau
The first act of protest, or civil disobedience, most of us learn about in schools in the United States is the so-called Boston Tea Party.
Colonists were righteously angry that the British East India Company was getting a “bailout” from the British crown and putting the financial onus on the backs of the colonists to prevent the private company from going broke. (Sound familiar?)
There were many establishment figures of the day who thought that act of protest was a bad idea, including the “Father” of this country, George Washington. However, that action led to further oppression from Britain and finally to the war for independence that would break the fledgling country away from the British.
I can imagine there are few conservatives in the US right now that would disagree with that militant decision of rebellion that led to US independence, even though they may have screamed such nonsense as “over the top” or “EXTREME” (Trump tweet) at the time.
Here in the United States, protest usually does not become “militant” until the people have had enough of repressive treatment.
In 1955, when the legendary Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to white people on a Montgomery bus, a boycott of many other segregated bus lines was sparked and in reaction Southern racists blew up churches and the homes of leaders of the bus boycott, including the homes of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and Rev. Ralph Abernathy.
Many conservatives label protests of oppressive conditions that they still support, “over the top,” or “EXTREME” but I think any sane person today would have to agree that bombing churches and homes for non-violent acts of civil resistance is EXTREME and few today would still agree or (publicly) admit that segregation in any form was a positive institution.
The above examples are just two of the many principled, courageous and sometimes militant acts that citizens of the United States have had to take against Republican, Democrat, Whig, or Tory governments throughout our history.
If one delves a few inches deeper into US history than the average public school education provides, we find that no gains have been made without principled, and sometimes, yes, militant protest.
Eight hour workdays; more equitable pay for workers and safer workplaces just didn’t happen because the ownership class finally found hearts! Rather, labor reform happened because of militant and dedicated struggle against that ownership class—-which often brought state violence against the workers, yet the workers would not back down!
Did women earn the right to vote because the male chauvinists of their time finally realized that women were equal? Not quite! Male chauvinists still don’t think that we are equal, but many of our fore-sisters, Iron Jawed Angels like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns were beaten, imprisoned and force-fed when they went on hunger strike for the audacity to want to participate in the civic sacraments of their country.
In fact, women struggled for over a century for the right to vote here in the US, but the actions of those opposing them weren’t EXTREME? Would even the most hardened Republican in the Senate think that women should not vote, today? Maybe they think it, but I doubt if few would have the courage to express it, like the courage it took of our sisters to risk everything they have, even their lives to be able to vote against those who oppressed them for decades.
Socialist/labor activist, Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to prison for ten brutal years for speaking against the US entrance into World War One—a war that serves as the epitome of a “bad idea” and one based on lies and deception and the crushing of dissent by the Wilson administration—but sentencing an older man to do time for “peaceably” gathering to express his opposition was not the EXTREME reaction?
Many protesters of the incredibly barbaric US war against Vietnam were beaten and four students slaughtered at Kent State in Ohio, for protesting the further incursion into Cambodia by the U.S. Which side was EXTREME? The students or the state?
In my own experience of protest, I was literally wrenched from my Soccer Mom life into the forefront of antiwar protest when my son, Specialist Casey Austin Sheehan was killed in another EXTREMIST U.S. war of aggression led by the “Coalition of the Willing” cobbled together by then president George Bush.
When I saw Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify before the Senate hearings to confirm another misogynist to the Supreme Court, I was slightly triggered. I remember my own experience of trembling nervously while testifying at a hearing in June of 2005 in the basement of the Capitol building. The “Downing Street Memo” hearing was convened by then ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers (D-MI) (who has ironically been forced to resign hence do to accusations of sexual improprieties).
The condemnation of our hearing was swift, from conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck to Dana Millbank of the the Washington Post who ridiculed our principled efforts to expose the fact that the Downing Street Memo confirmed that months before the invasion of Iraq high ranking officials in Great Britain and the US were already “fixing intelligence” to fit the already decided invasion.
Then in August of 2005 when I gathered a few intrepid antiwar people and reignited a dormant antiwar movement in Crawford Texas, I understood what it really costs to stand up for something one believes in here in the US, when it’s not a popular position with conservatives.
From the mean to the ridiculous: Glenn Beck called me an “attention whore,” and the questionable Ann Coulter made fun of my (horrors) “legs.” Rush Limbaugh said that my story was “manufactured.”
I was subjected to many death threats and disgusting attacks by the establishment politicians, media, and by their sycophants in the grassroots. Unfortunately, I know what Dr. Ford has been subjected to and it hurts to see it happen to another woman who was only doing what she thought was the right (left? best?) thing to do.
Now, I challenge any of my detractors to point out one error I have ever made in my assessment of the Iraq War.
My son was dead then, and he is still dead. It’s certainly an EXTREME position to continuously murder other people’s children for profit, in my opinion.
Protest, or no protest; support, or condemnation, nothing will change some material facts that finally caused an individual, or a group of individuals to come to their breaking points—but what I, and all the people before and after me have tried to do is to help others by sharing our pain and courageously standing up for what we believe in.
In a recent interview Trump had this to say: “I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters.”
Actually, it’s embarrassing and against the law for “the country” not to allow protesters. John F. Kennedy, who, no matter what one thinks of him, was no wild-eyed left-winger, said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Even if no one listens at first, we all just want our voices to be heard.
No matter what the EXTREME establishment does to us, I have a feeling we are never going to back down.
Join us on the weekend of October 20-22 for many opportunities to protest the bi-partisan war machine!
Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Casey A. Sheehan who was killed in Iraq on April 04, 2004. Sheehan came to national and international prominence when she set up a protest camp outside of the vacation home of then president George W. Bush. Sheehan is still protesting US wars of aggression and is organizing the Women’s March on the Pentagon for this upcoming October 21st.