It has been fifty years since the tumultuous “Summer of ’68” and the now immortal chant by protesters at the Democratic National Convention of, “The whole world is watching!”
Fifty years; a half century. The wave of protests against the Vietnam War had come to a great crescendo. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were cut down by assassins’ bullets. American society was in turmoil both on the streets and the college campuses—and Woodstock was still a year away!
Fast forward to 2018: A new wave of protests has entered the fray of American society with names like “Antifa” and “Black Lives Matter.” The American penchant for lively protest is obviously still alive and well.
However, upon close examination, we must ask if the new protests of our era share anything with the old protests of the 60’s. On the surface, it would seem so; people are protesting against what they feel is injustice, right? Well, yes and no.
Back in the 60’s there were concrete things to protest. The Vietnam War was a long, projected affair that was getting nowhere and costing thousands of young American lives. The specter of “Jim Crow” still loomed in the South and African Americans were fighting with vigor to enter segregated schools—or to simply sit at a lunch counter in peace. Whatever side you were on, there was a clear line down the middle: “I’m right—they are wrong!”
In the current political climate, however, it is not always easy to see who is the “bad guy.” We are a blessed country with a Constitution and free press, but as such, the lines are sometimes blurred and often beliefs and statements are not vetted out and are rather taken at face value. This is a bad cocktail and can cause misunderstandings to abound.
Certainly, because of the darkness of the human heart, racism exists in our society. But if people of good will want to protect our country from illegals who may have ill intentions, should they be called “racist”?
If there are Americans who still believe in the free enterprise system; that it produces the most jobs, provides for the most people, and increases living standards across the board, should they be called “fascists” or stooges of “evil capitalism”?
When groups like Antifa physically attack people for no other reason than that they have a differing opinion on an issue, is that true “protest”?
When a public forum is being held to air out opinions and protesters come in and, sometimes violently, prevent people from speaking, does this represent a plurality of ideas?
Freedom is only freedom when there are parameters to follow—when there are rules and respect. Chaos is not freedom. Not allowing our neighbors to speak freely is not only disrespectful, it is un-American.
There is enough room in a free society for all views to be heard. And that is the key—they must be heard.
Examination of the New Left leaves us asking: What is the program? What is the plan? Exactly what kind of society do you want? One where only your views are heard, while the views of your more conservative neighbors are squelched? What about the right of people, especially Christians, to exercise their faith? Will they be allowed to?
Surely, there are people on the Left who are well intentioned, but shall we not have clarity?
Protest and the airing out our grievances is as American as apple pie. It would be unthinkable to muzzle opinions whether they come from the Left of the Right.
But the Left can certainly learn a lesson from many throughout the years who by respectful determination brought about change. Ask a college student bent on yelling and screaming to outline the basic tenets of Marxism as opposed to Capitalism, and you may get a tongue tied answer.
When one sets a course to protest in the free society we live in, there should be a long session beforehand thinking about what exactly the protest is about and what is the best way to conduct it.
Being a rebel these days may be fashionable, but being a rebel without a clear cause can open the door to foolishness. And when that door opens, we all lose.
Joseph M Bianchi is an author, journalist and publisher based in Greenville, SC. He writes frequently for Gannet News and the Jerusalem Post.