When I was in college, I protested once. It taught me an invaluable lesson.
It had to do with the presidential election of 1972 when Richard Nixon and George McGovern ran against each other.
In 1972, I was old enough to vote in the presidential election. I wasn’t quite clear on what Democratic candidate George McGovern was all about. However, thanks to my grandmother McKlveen (who was living with my family) I had a clear picture of what Nixon was about, from the California senate race of 1950 onward. Voting for Nixon was not an option.
When Vice-President Spiro Agnew came to speak at the Richmond (Virginia) Coliseum in November 1972, I ended high up in the nosebleed seats as a part of a small group that chanted slogans during the Vice-President’s remarks.
I don’t remember who convinced me to go, what the name of the group was, or what we chanted. I do remember thinking, during the first round of chanting, “We’re too high up; they can’t hear us down there.” We were so not-loud that nobody bothered to shush us or threaten us or arrest us.
The Vice-President, from my vantage point, was a tiny blob. (Of course, that could have been because I wasn’t wearing my glasses.) The acoustics of the Coliseum made it hard to make out what he was saying. After about five minutes of protesting, I was bored and restless and wanted to go home.
The thing that really stuck in my mind was a comment made by a fellow protester during the performance of the country-western band that played before the Vice-President spoke. I rolled my eyes and said, “Yuck.” The guy next to me, short, dark, with a beard and glasses, said, “Don’t do that! That’s the people’s music!” Since the guy was kind of cute, and I wanted to appear cool, I shut up.
However, a few months later, when I heard Dolly Parton on the radio, I stopped to listen carefully. And, snotty English major that I was, I was very impressed with the lyrics of the song. I started paying much more attention to country-western music and to the culture–my own Southern Scotch-Irish culture as it turned out–from which the music came.
As a result of my protest experience, I started on the road to being much more aware of my own culture and of the traditional values (hard work, sacrifice, compassion, egalitarianism, color-blindness, respect for legitimate and proven authority) that have always been the truest expression of that culture.
I consider that protest experience one of the defining moments of my college life.
Current anti-bank, ant-war, anti-whatever protests that are the latest media fad–these don’t seem to me to be leading anyone to more thoughtfully consider the complexities of dealing with human life. For instance, I have wondered for several days now why anyone seriously concerned with social justice would defacate on police cars–as happened recently during the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City.
Maybe if I were looking at them from the inside, I would find a lot of people who deal with political realities more like Buddhists than Bolsheviks.
What also puzzles me is why recent protesters don’t simply do what would kick evil rich bastards in the nuts the hardest. Deprive them of money.
Hey, protesters: take your business completely away from Bank of America and Walmart. Be a “locavore” of sorts when it comes to your finances and where you buy your motor oil additives and baby wipes and tampons. Don’t buy into the enticing commercials. Look into your soul and be ruthlessly honest about rooting out that tiny bit of materialistic yearning for The Bigger Better American Life.
Or completely ignore dealing with your own motivations, your own desires that might be propping up the evil rich bastards. Keep standing in the street, yelling and blame-placing. Get arrested. Whine that life isn’t fair. Write endless passive-aggressive blog posts. (I love doing that! It’s fun!) And while you continue being ineffective, the evil rich bastards will gladly take your money and ignore you.
Even if it’s just being honest and aware within your own self, geez, Louise, do something serious and meaningful already.