FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: STREET PROTESTS

 

I thought about making a sign to carry in the Boston Women’s March last Saturday, but in the end, I decided against it. The sign I didn’t make would have read “I am Spartacus” on one side and “Ich bin ein Berliner” on the other. My point would have been that what’s good for American women is good for American men. I abandoned the sign idea as too subtle to be effective. Anyway, how many people these days are familiar with the film Spartacus?

Other demonstrations I’ve been part of come to mind. No two alike. Some with more far-reaching effects, some with less.

The first one was actually a riot, not an organized demonstration. It took place in Baghdad at the start of the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Iraq had minimal military involvement in that short conflict, but Iraqi citizens were outraged. In their view, it was one more instance of Israeli aggression. As far as I could tell (and remember), the only goal they had in taking to the streets was to express their anger with Israel and its enabler, the United States. My presence in the mob came about by accident, and it was terrifying. Somehow, I managed to get away unharmed, even though I was in a Chevrolet station wagon with Texas plates.

Back home in Texas a few years later, I experienced another frightening street demonstration, though in this one, I did not fear for my life. In it, thousands of people, mainly students, marched from the University of Texas campus to downtown Austin and past the state capitol. It was one of many such efforts to end the war in Vietnam.

Two things made it scary. One was that we had no parade permit until the march had actually started. Lacking one, we stayed on the sidewalk and walked two-by-two. Faculty members acted as marshals and instructed us to keep it peaceful and stay as far away from the plate-glass windows  as we could.

The parade permit was finally granted, and we moved into the street, but the possibility of harm remained. In fact, it may have increased. We were marching out in the open past at least one high-rise building that was under construction. The hardhats working many floors above had little use for the sorry-ass, hippy troublemakers below. So far as I know, no one was injured by falling rivets.

Every participant knew what the goal was: end the war. Certainly the cumulative effect of many similar demonstrations had a hand in making that happen.

In 1986, there was Hands Across America. Ann and I and friend Patricia who, though seriously ill with cancer was not to be left out, drove to a field in north central Texas to get in a line and hold hands. The line was meant to stretch from coast to coast. Participation fees and T-shirt sales were expected to raise between fifty and a hundred million dollars to relieve hunger in America. It called attention to the need, but the amount of money raised – fifteen million – fell far short of goals.

Still, it felt good to stand out there on a windy prairie in solidarity with countless others who wanted a more compassionate America. It was a moment of righteous behavior in a time when Reagan was braying that government is the problem and that helping the poor just fosters dependency.

On a cold Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, Ann and I joined with fellow citizens in Saranac Lake to protest Republican efforts to take health insurance away from twenty million Americans covered under the Affordable Care Act and to weaken Medicare and Medicaid.

Our Congressional representative, Elise Stefanik, had just voted for repeal of the ACA, even though almost 85,000 people in her district (slightly over 10%) are covered under it. It was a one-issue rally, and in my view, more likely to create legislative changes because of that. As soon as I got home and my hands got warm enough so I could type, I wrote Congresswoman Stefanik, something I had been putting off. Orchestrated efforts to persuade Ms. Stefanik of the errors of her ways are ongoing.

It was a most satisfying experience. I came away feeling affirmed and hopeful. My friends in this village of 5,000 were taking action to combat legislation we found harmful to ourselves and the country. We sang “America the Beautiful.” We reminded ourselves that Trump lost the popular vote by three million and that he had needed help from James Comey and Vladimir Putin to get as many as he did. He would be no match for energetic patriots all over the country in out of the way places, such as Saranac Lake.

The Women’s Marches last Saturday were similarly encouraging. There were so many participants, we must surely have gotten the attention of some in Congress. Not the revolutionaries in the so-called House Freedom Caucus, of course. Certainly not the new President, except to goad him into a pissing contest with the press about crowd size.

It’s possible that the Women’s Marches were focussed on too many different issues to result in legislative and regulatory changes. But maybe not. Organizational follow-up efforts are ongoing, and that will help. Also, it seems certain that the President will continue to be so narcissistic, erratic, mean-spirited, and destructive that the opposition will grow and grow and grow until he is rendered impotent.

3 thoughts on “FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: STREET PROTESTS

  1. ACP

    David Brooks had a good piece, I felt, in the NYT shortly after the women’s marches. My physical limitations prevent me from marching andbeing in crowds. But writing to our representTives and Senators can be effective. You’re correct, I believe, about Trump. We are on for a rough four years – and so is Trump.

    Reply
  2. Erika B

    Dear Mr. Willcott,

    I have been following your Blog for a few months, after reading your lovely Franklin Manor book. I wanted to leave a comment thanking you for your being a voice from a place I consider to be my home, even though I currently live in the Badlands of New Jersey, and your eloquence and wit in doing so. Growing up in Saranac Lake, I remember it as a place of great and idiosyncratic personality, and each time I open my inbox to see another Geezer Rumination, it is a joy to experience your particular contribution to it. Thank you, and please keep writing!

    Sincerely,
    Erika B.

    Reply
  3. EHW

    Cogent, heartfelt comments. Regardless of legislative, desired outcomes from the marches, much has been accomplished: identity with likeminded people focused on humanitarian goals.

    Reply

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