In light of the Wall Street Protests in New York, Los Angeles, Columbus, Boston and Chicago, there has been a lot of talk online and on the news alike about whether or not these protests are accomplishing anything, and whether or not these protesters are patriotic Americans, or just whiney, entitled hippies.
I’m admittedly a news junkie. I used to work in news and broadcast journalism and I love it all; from liberal, to conservative, to faux-news comedy shows (Colbert Report anyone?).I don’t necessarily love all of the opinions and stories that I hear, but I like to hear it all because it’s entirely too easy to get boxed into your own opinions and become close minded, just like the very people you’re ridiculing. Once in a great while, a conservative commentator will surprise me with a well thought out opinion that blind-sights the way I think about an issue (“a great while” being the operative words there).
The thing that I can appreciate about the media, is that they can take any situation and filter it in a way that may or may not be similar to what’s really going on. If you watch Fox News, you’ll understand an issue one way, but when you watch BBC or CNN you’ll see it in a completely different way. I praise this, because never before in our history have we been able to mass-filter such large and dynamic occurrences in some of the largest cities in the world and convince most of America that something entirely different is going on. I’m not praising this because it’s constructive or good, but for the shear power and force we as humans have over our minds and the minds of others.
So what if we put it to good use for once, eh? Let’s take a lesson from big media and put their energy and power into something constructive.
I was watching coverage of the protests last night, and I heard a lot of commentators call these people anti-American, Socialist, Anarchist, criminal (well, they’re committing a misdemeanor by camping in a public city park… I wouldn’t really call that “criminal” when I’m sure most of these commentators have speeding tickets of a similar offensive degree), etc etc. You get the point. We’ve all heard these criticisms before, especially about “socialist, anti-American” Liberals. (Side note: as a complete shock, Ann Coulter wasn’t the most brutal of the conservative commentators!) One of the most troubling criticisms I heard, however, is that the Wall Street Protesters are not patriotic. Why is this the most troubling criticism, you ask?
Let’s examine this…
To understand the flaw in this rhetoric, one must understand “patriotism”- Patriotism during the formation of America, 20th century patriotism, and post-9/11 patriots.
Hint: they’re all different!
We all generally know our American history (except Sarah Palin, who really needs to check out Paul Revere’s story a little closer), so we all know why the American Revolution generally happened: American colonists who were disenchanted by England’s policies, taxes, and rule decided to rebel and take matters into their own hands, thus forming the United States of America. All of this “anarchist, rebellious” behavior was extremely radical and unorthodox at the time, and it still would be today (imagine what Fox News would say if Hawaii got sick of the Federal Government and revolted). In the time of the American Revolution, the word “patriotism” was an extremely literal context to describe someone who was, indeed, a Patriot Colonist. This was a person who was upset with how things were going, had very strong opinions, and gathered together with other like-minded people to upset the balance in order to create change and to create a living condition that they were happy with. England, of course, hated this because it upset their balance of power and control, and cut them off from cheap American resources and land.
In the 20th Century, times had changed a lot but not Americans’ passion for their country. During World War II, non-military Americans were called to serve their country by tightening their belts, donating scrap, and helping out in ways our modern young generations would never do. Patriotic Americans in the 20th Century worked hard, voted religiously, bought American products, showed up to town hall meetings, and donated their time and resources to good causes. Yes, there were mistakes and mishaps during this time, but patriotism was an active and engaging effort by everybody. And then 9/11 happened…
9/11 changed the way patriotism is practiced. The Post-9/11 “patriot” is by far the least-engaged, least-informed, and least-critical of all the forms of patriots in American history. In fact, we’ve come to embrace the opposite of what it means to be patriotic, and we criticize the spirit of the American Colonists as anti-American. In the Post-9/11 era, a “patriot” is someone who loves Jesus, their country, and the troops, and if you say otherwise or breathe a suggestion of criticism, you’re anti-American. Except if you’re criticizing taxes, then you’re patriotic because that’s what the Boston Tea Party was all about (except, that’s not really the whole story, but the modern Tea Party isn’t aware of this). “Patriots” of today see the Wall Street Protestors as young hippies that are causing a ruckus and vandalizing Lower Manhattan (nothing like the Boston Tea Party protestors who broke into a privately owned cargo ship, stole merchandise, and threw it overboard in the name of political rebellion… *smirk*).
I agree that the Wall Street Protestors need to consolidate their message more clearly. They don’t seem to be protesting about the same things exactly, but they’re still protesting. They’re making their voice heard. Many Americans don’t even vote or call their congress person when they’re upset with something – they’re content with yelling at the TV and complaining to their friends. Also, let’s point out how engaged young voters have been since the 2008 elections. We haven’t seen this much young political input for decades.
If people think protesting on Wall Street is so wrong, let’s look at the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence… the most obvious articles of course being Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly. We can also go deeper.
Howard Zinn writes in his forward of John Tirman’s book 100 Ways America is Screwing Up The World,
“I believe we do our country a service when we look at [America] honestly, free of nationalist arrogance. We need to think carefully about what it means to be patriotic. If patriotism means uncritical support of what your government does, and if it is unpatriotic to criticize the government, then patriotism fits in perfectly with Totalitarianism. But if we are to live in a Democracy, we should recall the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which declared that governments are artificial entities, set up by the people of the country to achieve certain ends and equal rights of all to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. . . . It is in that admirable tradition of dissent, defiance, resistance to illegitimate authority, insistence that not only Americans, but people everywhere, have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
Zinn reminds us that it is indeed patriotic to assemble and speak out when the government is no longer serving the people of the nation, and if we sit idly by, discontent yet silent, then we are doing an injustice to ourselves and to our neighbors.
So what can you do? I for one don’t feel like sitting outside in a park for days on end waving signs, but we can still do our parts. The first step is education. Understand all sides of the story, educate yourself about why people are protesting, and formulate an independent opinion (i.e. one not persuaded by friends, family, or one media source). Then see what you can do in your community – if you hear misinformation, present the facts in an unbiased way. Extinguish myth when possible. Write your congress person, attend town hall meetings, and most importantly VOTE! If we are active in shaping our nation, then our nation can be something that serves the people, not the other way around.
Alexander Webster is an Ashtanga Yoga & Restorative Yoga teacher; the founder/owner of Urban Village Healer in the Denver Highlands (a grassroots Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine clinic), a therapist specializing in Yoga Therapy, Ayurveda, Thai Yoga Massage, Reiki, and Chinese Medicine. He is also a Hindu Studies speaker for several colleges & universities across the United States. Alik has a Political Journalism background with The Washington Post, Politico, and MSNBC, and is currently a freelance Digital Marketing Consultant specializing in non-profit marketing, website design, copywriting, and public relations and an On-Air Digital Analyst for 9News KUSA Denver. In his free time Alik is an avid marathon runner, triathlete, cyclist, rock climber, and vegan foodie.