Protest and Patriotism: Perpetually at Odds

Image: Mobilus in Mobili via Wikipedia

If you own some kind of communication device, interact with other human beings, or are at the very least alive, you’re probably well aware that there has been a bit more outrage from American citizens lately, beyond the usual public unrest over a TV show finale or Beyoncé’s equally plot-twist-saturated home life.

Donald Trump’s election victory, administration choices, and executive orders have caused a nationwide frenzy that is arguably more pervasive than any other presidency this country has had. In fact, Trump’s first month in office has made everyone so distracted with politics, I haven’t seen a montage video on Facebook of cats and dogs doing adorable and classic cat and dog behaviors with fun bouncy background music in WEEKS… Yes, it’s that bad.

So what have we been doing if we haven’t been ‘liking’ our cousins’ never-ending baby picture newsfeeds and watching pet videos? Protesting, of course!! That’s right; Americans are actually logging off their computers to physically join other human beings in collective opposition to political decisions. It’s almost as if people are actually starting to “care” about our political system again…. I know, it sounds too good to be true; but either way, that’s fantastic, right? Well, apparently not…

The day after Trump’s inauguration, one of the biggest protests ever held brought men and women together in various cities across America as well as throughout all 6 other continents for the “Women’s March.” The crowds rallied together in spite of the inauguration in support of women’s rights, reproductive rights, and racial and religious equality. The protests were said to be on the basis that Trump’s various demeaning comments and policy proposals gave a clear indication that he has no intentions of being an advocate for these groups, and thus, citizens must advocate for themselves. But instead of provoking thought and respect for the greater cause, the worldwide protest was met with quite a bit of criticism — not for their message, as one might assume, but just for protesting in general. The theme among Trump supporters and partisan news stories seemed to be that Trump’s critics should “sit down, shut up, and accept the results without opposition; the choice was made and now everyone needs to get over it and do whatever Trump has in mind for the next 4 years.

“Anti-protest” tweets from Trump supporters

But there is a fundamental problem with this rhetoric; namely, that liberals and conservatives alike have a given right as Americans to protest and “whine” as much as they want under the First Amendment. This freedom of speech is why no one was allowed to say or do anything when protesters of Obama’s inauguration featured Obama piñatas hung from nooses and set on fire in a mock “lynching,” signs reading “hang in there Obama,” various signs encouraging him to go back to Africa, or suggestions that he is the Antichrist.

Images: Courtesy of Imgur

As undeniably racist and shameful as some of the more extreme expressions of opinion may be, they are protected by law nonetheless — so long as protesters do not act on these notions and actually try to reboot lynching black people. That said, in an effort to avoid blatant hypocrisy, it is probably in the best interest of those upset by the Trump protesters to refrain from telling this entire demographic to withhold their opinions for the next 4 years. Not only is it highly unrealistic due to drastic differences in political ideologies, but it’s also suppressive, a quality entirely opposite of what this country claims to be. No president has ever been chosen 100% unanimously. There is bound to be differences in opinion and opposition to policy, and that, frankly, is something we do need to accept and welcome.

The second common criticism of protests, even when they aren’t violent, is that they are “unpatriotic.” When protesters refrain from more radical methods such as destroying property and instead choose to exercise their right in a peaceful manner like, say, kneeling during the national anthem, chaos and outrage still ensue. After Colin Kaepernick did just that to protest and raise awareness of police brutality toward the black community, audiences argued that he was being disrespectful to fallen troops and his country, and that he was ungrateful for his wealth as a professional football player. Within these criticisms of the refusal to grant the “preferred” level of respect to the country, is the implication that patriotism is about accepting the way your country is based solely on the fact that it’s your country and you should just respect it, no questions asked.

Tweet defending Kaepernick’s protest method

But yet again, fundamental issues with such an argument arise, the first of which being that objection to police brutality has absolutely nothing to do with American troops and whether or not they are being respected for their service to the country. In fact, one of the very purposes of serving in the military is to protect the citizens’ rights to speak freely and demand justice. Secondly, and most importantly, it is worth pointing out that the suppression of dissent from one’s country is the textbook definition of fascism. Whether you approve of the methods or not, Kaepernick’s choice to use his platform as a professional football player to speak out on an issue he feels strongly about is arguably one of the most patriotic things to do as an American. In a way, exercising his right to do something controversial enough to offend that many people is almost an honor, and it’s not something many people get to do in other countries.

Progress requires outcry. It requires protesters to make those in power and everyone else witnessing it to feel uncomfortable. It is meant to demand your attention and make you reevaluate your views — otherwise the oppressors and unaffected would never be forced to deal with the requests of the oppressed. Think about it, how could this country have gotten to the place it is today without protesting? If the men and women who were enslaved for over 400 years never had the guts to defy their masters, or the men and women who were subject to segregation for another 100 years never took to the streets to demand civil rights, what kind of country would we be living in? If women just sat back, obeyed their husbands like servants, and never had the courage to demand their right to vote or participate in the political process, where would we be? We would be living in 21st Century dark ages, not any closer to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all Americans.

So, whether you are for or against Trump and whatever policies he may bring to the next four years, I advise both sides to stay respectful. If you are heading out to a protest in the near future, be safe and smart. Don’t get violent or give people a reason to invalidate the overall cause. And if you are counter-protesting or commenting on such events, be respectful and allow protesters to exercise their right peacefully. I simply suggest instead of trying to criticize and shame protesters into submission and silence, we look at protesting for what it was truly meant to be — a message to those in power that something needs to be changed. I suggest we take pride in being able to exercise our right to reject a leader if we believe him/her to be oppressive. I suggest that we as a nation start viewing protest as, in fact, patriotic.


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