Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Protest March; Birthplace of America

    On December 16, 1773, a group of Americans, fed up with being bossed around by a government 4,000 miles away that they had no say in, decided to engage in a defiant act of protest that would shock the authoritarian-dominated world. They decided to board a ship in Boston Harbor and throw its contents, 90,000 lbs of tea, into the harbor. This act of protest, by an organized group of men against the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, helped spark the flame that led to the bonfire we now call the United States of America.

    Imagine, if you would, a similar situation occurring today. What would we think of the men and women who did such an act? Would we call them heroes? Or would we chide them as terrorists? Hippies? Jobless brain-dead morons who deserve to be shot? As a matter of fact, Benjamin Franklin, among others, reprimanded those who threw the tea into the harbor that day. Yet, today, we Americans justifiably celebrate the Boston Tea Party as a brave heroic act done by Americans who thumbed their nose at a bully bigger, stronger and much more powerful than us.

    I can't help but be amazed that the people of this nation, founded on the idea that authority must always be questioned, now rebukes those who do. I look on television and see in the blogs and in the newspapers, the sea of people protesting the Iraq war, the Jena Six case, Warrantless wiretapping, gay rights and other important issues, and I hear from many people around me; "Look at these idiots, why don't they get a job?" or "They should be shot. In Iran, they would be hanged." Guess what people, we're not Iran. The fact that Sally Field can make a comment against the war, or the fact that hundreds of people can go to rural Louisiana and fight against racism is what makes us better than Iran. I may also remind you, the same holds true for those who protest against abortion, who I rarely hear being called "losers" or "hippie nut jobs." The art of protesting is what has always made America the idol of the world. It's what we were founded on. Imagine, if you will, being a colonist in the 1770's and seeing the Boston Tea Party on the news, or seeing people protesting the British in the streets of Philadelphia, New York, Boston or Charleston. What would say about these people as we watched them on television, or read about them in the newspaper? Would we say to them what I've heard many say to those who protest today; "Go home, get a job, you look like a jerk?"

    Imagine, if you will, there was no Boston Tea Party. Imagine if a group of fed-up colonists did not throw snowballs at the oppressive British soldiers that led to the Boston Massacre. Imagine if people like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison and all our founding fathers didn't sign a document telling the British to pack up and go back across the Atlantic. Imagine if our forefathers in the 1770's just took it from the British instead of standing up to them. Imagine a world where the Americans did not become the first major group of people to stand up and say "nobody can tell us what to do." Would the British government and oppressive governments all over the world realize that they too could experience the wrath of an oppressed people? Would we still have absolute monarchies and totalitarian states ruling over Europe and the Americas today?

    It is because of incidents like the Boston Tea Party that free societies exist today. Yes, it is true that our military defends our freedoms as well, but dressing in fatigues and shooting at people in a warzone thousands of miles away is not the only way to defend freedom; reminding the government that we don't fear them and can strip them from power if need be, is another way. We Americans have become slaves to our government, putting trust in them that no government, liberal or conservative, free or not, deserves. We have become too used to the idea of American democracy and freedom because we're the ones who brought it into the contemporary world. Just because we pioneered it, does not mean it's permanently etched into our society. Ask anyone who lived in Germany in 1932 or Chile in 1973. I bet they didn't believe their democracies would fall.

    The art of protest is truly an American tradition. The French who stood up against the traditional monarchy and for the rights of the common man at the end of the 18th century got it from us. The Chinese students who stood against oppression in Tiananmen Square got it from us. The Hungarians, Czechs and Polish who stood up against Soviet imperialism got it from us. What are we telling the world if we treat those who do it here like traitors? You may not agree with them, and that's fine, but they not only have the right to rise up an express their beliefs, they have a duty as Americans to make their voices heard.

    Perhaps you should try it sometime, while we still can.

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