Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Fine Art of American Protest

By Alan Caruba

There have been many mass marches on Washington, D.C., so the locals know how to make plans to anticipate the congestion and the police are polite and skillful in the science of crowd control. They can afford to be polite because the crowds, no matter how large, are too.

Oh, sure, they shout a lot, but that’s what a protest march is all about. Back in April 1894 unemployed workers known as “Coxey’s Army” showed up to demand that Congress do something. It was the second year of an economic depression that would last another two years, but it was the worst that had hit the nation barely three decades since the end of the Civil War.

Americans know where to head when they are at odds with their government and most know or suspect that the source of their problems can be found in Washington, D.C. and they are always right.

Bloodshed has been extremely rare at such events. On June 17, 1932 a “Bonus Army”, some 20,000 World War One veterans and their families massed in the Capitol seeking advance payment of bonuses from the Hoover administration. The year is significant. It was four years passed the beginning of the Great Depression that began in 1929.

Orders were given to disburse them and to destroy the shanties they had built. An Army General named Douglas McArthur led the troops. Several of the veterans were killed. Hoover’s reputation never recovered from that march.

Americans tend to march to protest economic issues and/or wars. Some social issues draw crowds such as the March 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which most people remember because Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech, “I have a dream.”

The 1960s were punctuated by many marches to protest the Vietnam War. The crowds massed in 1965, 1966, 1967, and1969. They kept coming back as in 1971. In April 1974 some ten thousand gathered to demand the impeachment of Richard Nixon. On August 10, 1974 Nixon resigned; the first and only President to do so, the final act of the Watergate scandal.

The 1980s had a smattering of smaller marches, but they were about things like lesbian and gay rights or global nuclear disarmament. It wasn’t until another war that a lot of Americans got on the buses to Washington, D.C. again. The Gulf War ginned up a crowd estimated at 75,000. The 1990s saw a handful of marches of not much consequence.

The war in Iraq stirred familiar passions and the first protest march was on September 24, 2005. By 2007 the pace picked up, but while the war was unpopular with many Americans, it did not generate the kind of anger that Vietnam did. Barely ten thousand showed up in July 2008 and, by Washington, D.C. standards, that was small.

What is significant about the Saturday, September 12, 2009 march was the totally grassroots nature of the event. It was billed as a “Tea Party”, a name taken from the rather spontaneous tea party events that occurred shortly after Congress went insane and started spending billions of taxpayer dollars on bailouts, the takeover of General Motors, ownership of an insurance company, and a huge so-called “Stimulus” bill.

With the economy heading south, Americans quickly and correctly concluded that the Democrat controlled Congress and the new President were taking the nation over the cliff with their spending, borrowing, and printing of dollars.

September 12, 2009, however, was a protest against President Barack Obama.

Second and third in line for public protest were Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Having achieved total political power, the President and Congress had generated a massive grassroots resistance barely seven months into his term.

On Saturday Americans from around the nation gathered in Washington, D.C. to demand that the U.S. Constitution be obeyed!

The U.S. press initially described the crowd as “tens of thousands.” It was so big that, by evening, even the Capitol police had not yet released an estimate of its size, but British press observers pegged it at two million!

America was born in protest and a new generation is carrying on the tradition. It is not an idle thing. They could have gone to a football or baseball game. Instead, they came to Washington, D.C.

Only fools would dare ignore them.

For some great photos you won't find in the mainstream media, go here:


Louise W said...

I am always proud to be an American, but today I could say I am "bursting with pride" for my fellow Americans. Wasn't it a wonderful sight to see?

It gave us hope that we really can take our country back. To those who think we can be easily overcome and dismantled need to look hard at today and its significance. And, if I lived on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. I'd be very nervous!

Alan Caruba said...

Me, too, Louise.

Joe Hilliard said...

Don't oversimplify the message. Yes, there was strong anti-Obama sentiment. However, there is also a VERY strong sentiment against Big Government and almost all politicians - of BOTH parties.

In fact, there is an overwhelming majority, among tea party members that I speak with, who feel that Republicans are a BIGGER problem because they do not fight for principles of limited government.

They are fed up with the constant choice presented between candidates which forces them to choose the "lesser of two evils".

Both parties are facing big problems...

Alan Caruba said...

Thanks for amplifying the meaning of the march and I agree.

The MSM tended to identify the protest against Obama as a unifying factor and I sensed that as well...

But there has surely been a growing dissatisfaction with both parties and anger over the failure to obey the constitutional limits and strictures.

Buzzg said...

I remember when George Bush the Senior uttered the phrase "new world order". It was a chilling moment for me and one I have not forgotten. His son's inability to stand in the way of the Democrat spending machine confirmed for me the state of affairs as relates to the positions of both parties. There are, no longer, two distinct political philosophies in Washington. There are Democrats and RINOs. Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Democrat and Democrat-Lite.
Distinct political philosophies exist now only amongst the people. At the polls we choose the candidate that has best expressed our individual political philosophy only to find out later our favorite has lied to us merely to be elected or re-elected. The nature of politics is compromise. Who has been more compromised than the American patriot?
Hence we have come now to this sad state of affairs where there is no true choice. The distinction between good and bad is transitory and ultimately blurred. The "lesser of two evils" has become one big evil. Fortunately we are still able to be vocal and visible in our protest without fear of reprisal. We are still citizens with rights that can be exercised. For the moment.

Donna Harris said...

One thing that strikes me as I look at the photos is the ages of the protesters. These are not kids, with no life experience behind them. These protesters are middle aged and up. These are the people who protested Vietnam and Watergate. They are men and women who have served their families and their country, who have accumulated the kind of wisdom that only comes with age.

These are my parents and their friends, not my kids. These are the baby boomers.

Washington must sit up and pay attention, because these are the people who got Nixon out of the White House and the US out of Vietnam.

They will not stop until the government is cleaned out.

At least --- I desperately hope so.

Necromancer said...

Great pictures at that site. I'll have to remember that one. Alan do you think any of what transpired this past weekend will make a difference? Or are we just wasting time and effort.

Alan Caruba said...

I think the protest march will make a big difference, but not one that will be immediately evident. It will effect the nature of the bills put forth, the scheduling of votes, and the vote tallies as member of Congress calculate getting reelected versus supporting the Obama gang.

It was significant, not just for its size, but for its participants, many of whom were adults and the fact that it cut across political lines, conservatives, independents, etc. There might even have been some Democrats too!