Forms of Protest

Nationally, since the election, there has been a surge of what can reasonably be called hate crimes all across the US. There have been plenty of people cheering in the streets and slapping their neighbors and friends on the back to celebrate a party victory, certainly. But still more are scared, actually honestly afraid for their personal welfare in one way or another. They speak up and say so, their Trump-voting peers tell them to stop being whiners and poor losers and accept the legality of the democratic system that – via the electoral college and not the popular vote – will replace the nation’s first black-skinned president with possibly the nation’s first orange-skinned autocrat.

The problem seems to be that people are more interested in defending the man who made the racist/sexist/exclusionist behaviors seem like normal and acceptable behaviors, than they are in identifying those behaviors as a problem. It’s like with children or pets, they will imitate what they see others get away with, and adults/role models are where they learn these problems from. Political Correctness has its place for a reason: without it, people in large groups are seemingly unable to identify for themselves the boundaries of living within an inclusive, diverse community. This is a generational/cultural gap that the last twenty years had been bridging. 

Children are not born knowing how to hate anyone. As brilliantly pointed out by Denis Leary, “Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.” The same goes for every kind of -ism out there; even a MacGyverism was ultimately learned behavior from an older generation because that show just got a reboot this season. This kind of cultural transmission of information is no longer done only by parents, because the “village” it takes to raise a child has by and large been replaced by the internet, the newspapers, the radio, the tv, or movies. Media broadcasts behaviors and lessons in culture directly to a child’s brain, regardless of if that child is three or sixty-three, and parents have to be invested enough to pass along the moral clarifications that they want their kids to glean from those sources, which is almost impossible to do unless they too watch the same content. So, in some form or another, either by direct example or by passive ignorance, adults teach children how to disrespect and how to fear. 

If not actively illustrating disagreement with abusive traits displayed in media, by allowing disrespectful and fearful language to become common place outside of it, you validate those ignorant responses, which divides people who shouldn’t be cut out. It is ignorant. When there is familiarity, there is not baseless fear. If you know how a computer works, it’s just a scrap of moving parts that make life mostly easier, but if you don’t, it is a magic box that has a personal vendetta against you and is out to destroy your life one work day at a time. When you are educated enough to separate the crimes of an individual who is subject to due process of our legal system from the teachings of a faceless religion, Muslims are just your neighbors and coworkers and friends, not terrorists. A black kid wearing a hoodie is probably crossing the street because he has some place to go on the other side of it. That woman on the subway wearing the wedding ring, to the observations of an intelligent person, does not actually want to be catcalled or groped by a stranger on her way to work. Education and consideration solve a lot of the problems in understanding that people seem to use to justify hurting people who are somehow “different” from themselves. Different does not actually mean a threat, but that is hard to convey to many rational adults lately. Ironically the thing people are saying when they say “Give Trump a chance!” – they say he just got here, he hasn’t been around long enough to cause trouble, we need a chance to really get to know him – is the lesson that is not on display with the hate crimes countering that very message. 

Pardon my exasperation, but it’s pretty fuckin’ simple: Don’t hurt people, don’t dismiss people, don’t be a jackass to people because you think you are better than them. Because the fact is that, legally, in this country, in the United States of America, EVERYONE IS EQUAL. That is the heart of the Christian faith that so many people like to use to claim this as a Christian nation. And it is also the very concept that is ignored and thrown in the trash when someone shouts “BUILD THE WALL!” or beats somebody bloody because they hold a different worldview or were born with a different skin color, or when they treat a woman as property to be ordered around. Those are not examples of respecting the equal rights this country was founded on and has literally fought wars to protect.
The problem behavior was started and encouraged and has never been called out by the president-elect with the vehemence and sincerity that he used to provoke it. This has created an environment among the citizens that is unsafe. Anything done in response to that irrational, dangerous behavior is also a valid response to the rhetoric. You cannot call someone out for justifiably reacting to being mistreated by others, you must react to the mistreatment itself, otherwise the problem will continue and never resolve. Doing so creates a nation of victims and there is no progress because everyone lives in fear, of either being harmed or being retaliated against because of harm done by someone else.

So in recent days there have been protests in multiple cities across the country, some small and some with attendees numbering thousands that block traffic on major highways. They started organically, citizens gathering together and marching to be sure their voices are heard so that their interests might be protected. The protests are constitutionally protected and arguably an American tradition at this point as the only way to call out the source of the problem: the leader of the party and soon to be leader of the country ignoring and dismissing a full half of the electorate through his words on the campaign trail, and the promised actions of his cabinet upon inauguration. The promised agenda of the new administration will sharply curtail the civil rights of many disenfranchised citizens and not many people want to see an American citizen lose their American status of equality over blind racism, sexism, or in the name of God and Trump. Like the Tea Party that branched off from the Republican Party during the Bush Administration, like the 99%ers and the Occupy crowds that followed them, protesters this week have been inserting themselves into the political discussion they have otherwise been promised they will be excluded from under the President-elect’s administration.
Mostly, the actual protests have been peaceful over the last twenty years. The problem with large groups of people making their voices heard, however, is that they are vulnerable to the attacks of opportunists. Crimes are committed by thrill seekers or people looking to cause trouble or by conflicts between people with different opinions; a protest is peaceful, but sometimes riots follow protests. Grouping the actions of the rioters in with the actions of the protestors is again perpetuating the problem of ignorance steering action. The rioters are not the protestors. 

The protestors have every constitutional right to make themselves heard. Donald Trump’s responsibility for the social divide in the country is his refusal to admit the part he continues to actively play in it; the behaviors he encourages are the problem, and the people who perpetrate those behaviors are responsible for their own actions even when they claim to do so with Trump’s authority. He has given them the authority, they are exercising what they see as that right, and Trump has done nothing to tell those of that mindset that the behavior is still wrong and unAmerican. He spent actual months encouraging violence at his rallies, his words of dismissal against groups he couldn’t profit from have been repeated over and over by the media echochamber. Thus the agression authorized by his words over the long term has become the new norm in the past week, and many people are aware of it and doing nothing because they are trying to accept it or excuse it. They prefer someone else get actually hurt by Trump’s decisions than the alternative of them having to put up with another Clinton Presidency. 

Meanwhile, people who didn’t vote at all because of the staggering voter apathy that accompanied this campaign’s vitriol have started to hang their head with a kind of civics-class-remorse, sometimes outright guilt or shame. They didn’t want Trump’s version of a Great Again America, but they are aware enough to realize the problems it has accerbated in their every day lives. There’s a visceral push by some of that crowd to justify their non-vote status by pointing out the strengths a Trump administration can bring to the table. Some also ignore the problems their neighbors are having with calm assurances that “everything will be okay if you just give him a chance.” They are still on the fence and worse, just as much victimized by a system that only offered up choices they couldn’t differentiate between. These of course are just my observations in talking to people in my community or across social media and not a formal diagnosis, merely an example for contrast, but I feel pretty safe in asserting that nobody aside from Trump voters are exactly happy with the outcome of the vote.
What it ultimately gets down to is this: People who voted for Trump because they wanted a change are now faced with the challenge of actually changing for the better by standing up against the behaviors that Trump has explicitly encouraged. It’s not enough to thump your chest and declare the democracy safe and sacrosanct; as it turns out, your civic duty now extends beyond the voting booth to hold your candidate accountable for the actions he makes or the things he says, the same way you would hold his opponent accountable. Funny thing about politicians is that they learn quickly how to manipulate the truth and negotiate in their own best interests, and it is up to the people who put them there to be sure that the politician’s interest are their people’s best interests, otherwise the people often lose out to the richest lobbyist. That is quite literally how we got to this stage in our political system, the very reason so many people used their civic right to vote as a form of protest against candidates who were not in all ways ideal.

 Instead, many people are pretending those dangerous behaviors of the last week aren’t there or that they are excusable, and that is not change. That is disrespectful of their own vote for what they say they believe in if they are not willing to change their own behaviors and refuse to accept the inequality that perpetuates the very problems they want to change. If you can’t stand up against the rough consequences of the change you asked for, maybe you weren’t really voting for change to start with. Maybe you should consider, just for yourself, really grapel with your actual reasons for voting as you did. What did you expect would happen? How do you justify the outcome when crimes are already being committed every day in the name of the soon to be President of the United States? Look at what happened on the campaign trail and look at what has happened so far  and consider: how great is this really? 
Nobody else can answer that for you, nobody else needs ever know you considered the question. It’s up to you to use your voice when you want to make sure your values and beliefs in your country are protected. 

Just please remember to do it peacefully.

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