Many people are fed up with what they consider to be “business as usual” from their political representatives. To a certain degree, they are justified in feeling that way. Congress’ inability to even talk civilly, let alone exchange ideas of any worth in an effort to get something useful done is effectively bringing our country to a standstill. On the other hand, some of what we’re experiencing is the essence of what a democracy is all about; the sometimes shrill, often unruly, occasionally hateful debate of ideas. People can express themselves here – from the ridiculous to the sublime – as they can in few other countries around the world.
It’s the one thing the extreme right and ultra-left have in common, what the First Amendment guarantees us all; the right to peaceably assemble as we petition our government for a redress of grievances. Peaceable assembly being key to this freedom. Those violating them through intimidation, violence and vandalism – as well as civil disobedience sometimes associated with protest – must know they will, and should be, arrested. Moderation is key for the authorities as well. Maintaining a high level of respect, professionalism and restraint being particularly important. (Which can be extremely difficult if things are being thrown at you and you’re being called various names that question your parentage and integrity.)
One complicating factor is the extreme opinions being expressed. For example, several years ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement embraced a wide range of people with even wider ranging agendas, still held by many today; from anarchism to fiscal fairness, from those rightly questioning what motivates our actions to others calling for a complete redistribution of wealth; which is typical of any start-up movement as it strives to establish an identity, leadership and significance.
The ranks of Tea Partiers are likewise filled with people of considerably different points of view; from free-wheeling libertarians to strict constitutionalists, limited government proponents and states’ rights advocates, from strict fiscal idealists to compassionate conservative adherents. (The same can be said – to a degree – of the ever-changing METOO women’s movement, the more vocal environmental and animal rights activists, homosexual advocates and their heterosexual critics, pro and anit-abortionists and even Black Lives Matter agitators.)
All question how we view ourselves and the way we use money, expressing concern over what is perceived as a lack of responsible government and personal accountability. Each side having some really good ideas framed by some highly questionable statements. One big problem in Washington being that moderate politicians, men and women from both sides of the aisle who previously stepped in and found ways to forge workable compromises, have almost all been run out of town.
The truth is, most Americans don’t want a complete redistribution of wealth; socialism and communism being discredited some time ago. But they don’t want to see millionaire businessmen sitting on their wealth and making no real contribution to solving the fiscal mess we’re in either. We want responsible governance and expect the governed to act responsibly as well. We seek reasonableness from our employers while realizing employees must be attentive to the needs of their employers for both to succeed. We expect restraint from our politicians when doling out public funds collected from working America, but demand fairness and compassion when dealing with people in legitimate need. We abhor the waste and fraud so prevalent in our entitlement systems, realizing that many of the problems within those programs could be resolved if those issues were adequately addressed. Is that really expecting too much?
Democracy often makes us uncomfortable as it forces us to come face to face with ideas we would rather avoid or ignore; the restrained, reasonable and responsible often in competition with the disrespectful, unreasonable and distasteful. But all of it is protected, regardless of how much we might dislike it. “The greater good best served when all those messages are allowed to play out – to have truth and falsehood grapple.”; as Philosopher John Milton put it.1
Protest, in the form of rallies, speeches, marches or even “occupations” shouldn’t be feared nor participants mocked. As an integral part of democracy, the right to gather together and have our say about government policy should be respected the same as the other protected rights of the First Amendment; the freedoms of religion, speech and press. All of which are bedrock principles espoused by our founding fathers. Coupled with the Biblical principles many of those same founders likewise professed as worthy of practice, the promise of 2 Corinthians 3:17, still printed in the upper left-hand corner of the front page of many of our newspapers today, would ring more true. “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
1From an editorial appearing in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Oct. 16,2011
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