Recent violent protests and shootings in Portland, Oregon and Kenosha, Wisconsin portend a rough political season. As we head into local, state and national elections, we have a choice:
A) We can let the elections further divide us and engage in a bitter, nasty and potentially violent struggle.
B) Or, we can resist giving in to our inner aggressions, and vow to conduct a civil, respectful election.
I vote for B.
For a variety of reasons, over the past two decades what united us on Sept. 11, 2001, has been misplaced. Where once we came together in the horror of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., we have let our political differences divide us to the point many people will not respectfully disagree.
It is not enough to let the other side hold a peaceful protest. If a group has the courage to march in the streets, hold signs and try to speak, another group must counter protest. They honk horns, shoot them with paintballs — or worse — shoot them with bullets. Peaceful protests by day devolve into running street fights at night, with looting, rioting and burning.
Some groups come ready for battle, wearing body armor, goggles, helmets and shields. Some openly carry military style rifles, saying their intention is only self defense, when it’s clear they want to intimidate.
Some say that it’s the other side that proposes violence and they’re just responding to them. Some people advocate violence to precipitate a race war, something they call the Boogaloo. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants us a right to peaceably assemble, and in that context, if you carry weapons to advance your cause, your cause has already lost.
I can understand why some feel the need to stand up to racists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. The First Amendment grants everyone a right to protest peacefully, even for those our parents and grandparents fought against and defeated in World War II.
Similarly, I can understand why others feel that some leftists might be Marxists and Communists, and they feel a need to stand up against those groups, too. Our Constitution allows extremist expression, but it doesn’t mean we as citizens have to accept it or tolerate it.
Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and other heroes of the Civil Rights movement set an example for how to protest against people who used aggression — even when it was agents of the state that hit them with bully clubs. To protest segregated lunch counters, they dressed up in suits and ties, dresses and white gloves, and sat with dignity even while racists poured pancake syrup or flour on their heads. Lewis walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in 1965 in Selma, Alabama, and took a blow to the skull. Through creative nonviolence, they helped pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
No side should dictate the terms of civil protest and say, “You must behave and be polite, but we can carry a sword and shield.” That is not how the First Amendment works. It says “peaceably assemble.” The founders of our country set rules for public protest because they knew how quickly intemperate mobs could shift to violence.
This election will be strident. Voices will be raised. There will be dirty tricks, allegations, false claims and probably the worst of political discourse. It would be nice if Donald Trump and Joe Biden could shake hands — well, bump elbows — and agree to politely, amicably and respectfully debate the issues. Also, I want a pony.
Perhaps at least at the local level we’ll have such an election. One can hope. It would be refreshing for our Homer mayoral and city council candidates to take a vow of civility and kindness. We need kindness, especially as we work toward healing from this pandemic.
What we don’t need is more violence and death. Even at age 64, I am naïve and hopeful enough that we can set aside our lesser natures. We cannot remain divided, angry and bitter. We should aspire to be a nation united in our love of freedom, community and justice — a civil, kind and peaceful nation.
– Michael Armstrong, Editor