Category Archives: Shorter Works

Completely Different Spring Break

Always Look on the Bright Side

I have reached the nadir of parenting.  Because of my influence, my nine-year-old son was punished at school. This was no sin of omission (forgetting to pack a lunch or not ensuring that homework was done).  No…  I committed the grievous sin of exposing my son to the bright lights and battered throngs of Broadway.

The Decision

Last December, word reached our household in upstate New York that Eric Idle and friends were bringing an adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to Broadway.  I gingerly approached my wife.  “Perhaps our only child, light of our lives, is ready to have his world view altered forever?  And maybe not in a good way?  Besides, it would be a good excuse to visit New York City.”  He had never been to that big city.  Her memories of the film were not positive, so she hesitated to introduce our child to “Bring out your dead”, and “I fart in your general direction!”  I countered that those particular lines bore a striking resemblance to his current vernacular.  At this point I should declare that we are not the parents you meet at The Matrix with babes in arms.  We are, however, the annoying couple whispering to their child during the Buster Keaton festival at the revival theater.  As a friend of mine pointed out, “He is the only child I know who does a Charlie Chaplin impression.”  I like to think that was meant to be complimentary.

After consultation, we admitted that neither of us remembered the original film well enough to judge appropriateness, so I raced to the library before good sense intervened and the next night we watched a ragged videotape – all three of us.  The boy’s eyes widened at every scene change until I feared that his eyeballs might drop into his lap.  He asked for more.  I obliged with whatever television episodes were occasionally available.  He began regaling friends’ fathers with the dead parrot sketch. To mixed results, he auditioned a few Pythonesque insults for his associates.  The general level of discourse among his pals seemed to be rising at any rate.

Then the local brass quintet visited his school, performing a variety of tunes, including a Sousa march or two.  The musicians toured the classrooms.  Our son buttonholed the French horn player and pointed out that one of the marches was the theme song to the Monty Python show.  The artist mentioned to his teacher that no nine-year-old had ever recognized the tune.  The teacher was proud.  The boy was proud.  I was just relieved that the teacher was not calling child services, perhaps resulting in a truly frightening experience channeling Franz Kafka via John Cleese.

The Planning

Thus, my wife and I introduced the idea of visiting New York City and seeing Spamalot on Broadway to much enthusiasm.  My brother got wind of the idea and we agreed to merge vacations.  We managed to get five seats together on the appropriate Tuesday evening in the upper balcony.  Tuesday evening seemed wise since the show began an hour early and the distance from the stage seemed wise depending on the graphic nature of the Black Knight sequence (if you’ve seen the movie, then you can understand the thought processes; otherwise, let’s just say that I envisioned blood spurting into the fourth row—once again, let me reiterate that we, as parents, thought this through).  The tickets soon arrived, including a brightly colored note reminding us that the show started at 7 p.m.

We made reservations at the Sheraton Suites on the Hudson, hoping to save some money by staying on the Jersey side and taking the ferry to public transportation.  Arriving on Saturday evening, exhausted from the monumental tasks of trip preparation and long distance driving, we looked across the river and caught skyscrapers in our eyes.  The setting sun reflected off their shining visages and we could not wait until Sunday to visit.  Alas, the ferry, which departed from “steps outside the hotel’s door”, actually did not run on weekends.  Surprise!  Alackaday!  The hotel grumpily ran a shuttle service to Port Imperial, a few minutes away by van.  We settled on having dinner in the city where everyone ate late anyway.

Let’s Take Manhattan

The ferry fee (approximately $12 roundtrip per person) put a definite dent in the reasonableness of not driving into the city.  A half hour later, we were deposited on 42nd Street by the ferry bus, which we would somehow catch at the end of the night for the return to the boat terminal.  We wandered through the gathering masses queued for The Producers and Phantom of the Opera.  We stopped and contemplated the Schubert Theatre with its promising Spamalot edifice.  Emerging into Times Square, our son stopped in his tracks—this was the definition of the big city.  His eyes said, “Everything happens here.”  We paid homage to the four corners of the Square: Hershey’s, Toys R Us, the southern multi-story projection screens, and construction.

The crowd was massive and we moved across streets in waves.  A friendly policeman stood beside his horse, trading quips with passersby.  The boy greeted the horse, not the man.  We aimed for the restaurant Mars 2112, an attempt at mixing dinner with entertainment, an attempt doomed to failure and recrimination.  Apparently, Mars in the future features Southwestern cuisine matched with predictable shipping difficulties on the spice front.  I spent the meal trying to decode the performance art that will be Martian newscasts in a century.  Our son thought it was really cool, so we were liable to eat there again.

After dinner, we walked and walked back to the ferry terminal, expecting the magical mystery ferry bus to roll up and save our feet for the rest of our vacation.  None of us whined, but we were notably silent after fifteen blocks.  Back at Port Imperial in New Jersey, we followed the directions that had been given to us and phoned the hotel to request the shuttle retrieve us. Unfortunately, the number provided kicked into a frightening unanswered ringing.  On the third attempt, some benevolent soul answered the telephone and we were eventually saved from the slowly dropping temperature.

Why has that turtle tackled the other one?

The next morning, we headed for Central Park via Port Imperial, tempting fate and annoying the shuttle driver.  Our secondary goal was to master the subway system prior to my brother’s arrival.  The ferry buses deposited us on 58th Street and we meandered to the Central Park Zoo.  The weather was hot, it was Sunday, and the park was crowded.  Even so, the zoo exceeded expectations.  Spring was in the air and the turtles and the otters were mating.

No joy could compare to watching as parents approached the otter enclosure with children in tow.  Mothers’ faces contorted as the lights of their lives loudly inquired with regard to the otters and their unusual noises.  “They’re playing, precious dear.”  “I’ve never heard an otter make that noise before!”  Our son, wise beyond his years, tried to help: “They’re mating!”  Precious children looked to their mommies quizzically.  Those mothers of prevention looked at me as if I had single-handedly torn years of moral foundation out from beneath their parenting.  I smiled and shrugged, having expected a little more sophistication in the big city.  Those poor, bewildered offspring somehow kept their arms in their shoulder sockets as they were dragged away.  I loved the zoo.

Discovering ourselves dehydrated and starving, we wandered up to Fifth Avenue and stumbled upon a parade of visiting police officers.  We bought hot dogs and water and plopped down on a bench to watch.  The spectacle was delightfully short, featuring roadblocks, bagpipes and countless blue shirts.

Was that our stop?

The time arrived to take the subway- our goal was ice cream at a place named Serendipity.  We were hot and wanted to rest.  We combined a lack of M.T.A. knowledge with a tiny map torn from the back of a guidebook.  The express train which we boarded deposited us in Queens where we followed the pack onto another likely train, amazed that everyone else also had to make a u-turn in order to get to their destination.  It was a Sunday.  Maybe we were not the only tourists in New York City?  We were however the only tourists on that train proceeding deeper into Queens.  We spent an extra half hour on our ice cream quest, but finally emerged at the proper location.  My wife stopped at the tollbooth on the way out of the subway station, “I don’t suppose you have a map of the system?”

“No.”

“Not even a little map with the expresses on it or something?”

“There’s this,” says the operator, holding up a large map with all the lines marked in legible print and housing a schedule at the bottom.

“That looks great!”

“I don’t think you want it.  It doesn’t have all the Olympic stuff marked on it.  We’re going to be getting new ones.”

“No, really, that’ll be fine.”

“You should wait for the new one.”

“We need it now.”

“All right, but you’re going to want the new one.”

Suzanne pulled the map from the operator’s reluctant fingers.

We emerged into sunlight, bearing the map and a newfound love of daylight.

Naturally, everyone else in the city had decided to have ice cream, creating an hour and a half wait for a bowl of frozen manna.  We turned tail and headed to Dylan’s Candy Bar, which we also planned to visit.  And they had ice cream!  And it was delicious!  We bought candy.  We were happy again.

Refreshed, we decided that we must master the subway system in one afternoon and headed for the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in Soho.  My companions eyed me suspiciously when I selected our train, but we arrived at the Broadway-Lafayette station without incident.  Even so, I was dogged by “is this an express” questions for the rest of our visit.

MoCCA was one room sparsely decorated with comic strip art.  I liked the stuff and they were showing a cool documentary about Winsor McKay.  The two gentlemen there were nice, but I wanted something more like a museum than a clubhouse.  It was clean and they had a bathroom.  Scholastic, the publisher of every book that nine-year-olds read, operates an under-stocked bookstore nearby.  We went and looked and departed.  We successfully navigated the subway back to 42nd Street, where the NJ Transit buses never appeared and we made the end-of-day trek to the ferry amid some complaint.

A Good Rest

My brother and nephew met us at the Sheraton.  Their dining room proved to serve nice meals overlooking landfill construction.  Afterwards, we divvied up the two beds, sleeper sofa, and floor so that no one was comfortable, but everyone found some sleep.  Then the telephone started ringing, as the front desk clerk believed we had engaged in surreptitious bathroom flooding.  The people below us were drowning.  I crawled over bodies in the dark and stepped into the bathroom, sliding across the floor.  Water was pouring from the ceiling.  I quietly expressed my own concerns to the woman on the telephone.  She waited until we had all fallen back to sleep in order to call back and apologize for her earlier rudeness.  Staring at the ceiling, I seriously considered a change of venue.

For Monday, we had all decided to visit the American Museum of Natural History.  I attempted to show off my newfound mastery of the subway system and only sent us a few stops too far on an express.  No one complained, but I felt their eyes on me as we passed the Museum stop for the first time.

The mineral collection was served with solemnity in dim light and church service whispers.  The diamonds radiated and the uranium glowed.  Various cultures were successfully displayed in manners that inspired shock and awe.  Massive Olmec heads resided one story above an auditorium filled with huge totem poles.  Walking into each animal room was a venture into a frozen zoo.  Even so, AMNH was all about the dinosaurs.  The main entrance defined the experience as an Allosaurus and a Barosaurus towered over visitors.  Years ago, the film Jurassic Park drove all images of Gertie the friendly sauropod from my mind.  In that wake, the massive diorama above me seemed more stark and volatile than my childhood visits had ever allowed dinosaurs to be.

Dinner was at the Jekyll and Hyde restaurant, four floors of animatronics, horrific actors, and exceptional décor, an experience unequaled in cheesiness or culinary mediocrity.  The conceit of the place was of a horror club where you dine among the denizens.  We ate on the second floor, the library.  The walls were lined with book spines from old bestsellers, not the promised arcane works of lost masters.  The floor show was vaguely entertaining.  A sign near the exit listed the performers and thanked Actors’ Equity.  In retrospect, that should have been a two way street.  It was also conceivable that the cooks had stepped out and were performing on the stage that night because they certainly were not performing in the kitchen.  My penchant for encouraging my son’s inclination for theme restaurants was sated.  No more.

Not How to Do It

Tuesday was theoretically a day of rest until the show that night.  We opted out of my brother’s forced march across the Brooklyn Bridge in order to keep our plans simple: lunch in Chinatown, side trip to Battery Park for a look at the Statue of Liberty, and then to 42nd Street for dinner.  We wandered into Chinatown, only to be overwhelmed by restaurants, some deserted, some unappealing.  Driven by hunger, my wife took to asking shopkeepers for recommendations.  Finally, a grandmotherly type suggested the place around the corner.  Xo looked small, but had expanded wherever possible on the inside.  We ate in the former alley cum patio.  The food was delicious and slightly exotic in an American way.  We tried various pronunciations for the restaurant’s name, but ultimately the owner told us that it was simply “X-O”.  I wish we had asked where the name originated.

Misreading the subway map took us on a circuitous route to Battery Park, including an odd transfer to Broadway-Lafayette Street station, which had apparently been moved since Sunday.  Three women departing a hairstylists’ convention were the only other occupants of our final subway car.  The conductor, in a burst of extroversion, sat with us and chatted about good tourists spots, which he had never visited.  Battery Park was torn apart, but the construction workers were at rest.  The Statue of Liberty shimmered in the afternoon haze.

We returned to Times Square early for dinner, selecting to shop indiscriminately.  We stumbled upon Bryant Square and the New York Public Library.  Aaron stood between the lions, lost in reverie.  I photographed him surrounded by real New Yorkers, relaxing in their urbane je ne sais quoi.

On my brother’s recommendation, we dined at John’s Pizzeria across the street from the theater.  The pizza was delicious. We were hot.  There was beverage.  We ordered dessert.  We stumbled out into the empty street and pulled our show tickets from our pocket.

If you were at Spamalot that night, let me apologize to you.  We were those people, the ones sprinting into the theater, up the stairs, up the stairs again, up more stairs, and then pausing to breathe at the highest point on Broadway.  Cringing, we made our way carefully to our seats and collapsed.  The show had just begun, but it took my wife and me a half hour to relax enough to enjoy it.  Our son was enthralled from the moment his eyes focused on the stage.

Always Look on the Bright Side

This was the reason for our trip to New York City.  We had been reading about the show for a month.  Naturally, we had been talking Monty Python the whole time.  We already were the sort of people who knew the Tim Curry oeuvre, the Hank Azaria voice-overs, and the David Hyde Pierce world of creations.  If you’ve seen any Monty Python movies, then you know the sort of people that we are.  You either love us or try not to look us in the eye when you pass by at the supermarket.

The show was funny, offensive, creative, and enjoyable…and it ended a little more than two hours later.  The Grand-Guignol was not emulated. We bought attire and coconuts that we treasure.  We took to saying, “Fetchez la vache!”

The next day, we headed to Metropolitan Museum of Art, which we wandered through randomly, pretending that we were at our leisure.  We saw a small portion of the museum, but I discovered an odd penchant in myself for the humor of Max Ernst. Who’d’ve thought?  He was the Terry Gilliam of his day.  We ate at a wonderful seafood restaurant off Times Square called Blue Fin.  If you go, leave the back way and you’ll find yourself submerged.

Still, Spamalot lingers for all of us.  Coconuts pound rhythmically in my wake when I least expect them.  A little rude French lingers in our vocabularies.  And the boy, sitting quietly in class, not quite concentrating on his work, began laughing at memories of the show.  According to the needs of the class, his laughter needed to stop.  He spent the rest of the school day seated by himself, still entertained by Tim Curry et al, his internal life all the better for it.

Would I change the decision to see the show?

In retrospect, we should have stayed on the New Jersey PATH line and saved significant money on the ferry fees.  When we return (and we will) we are far more likely to arrive at our destinations directly based on improved subway navigation, as long as we don’t leave another ten-year gap between visits.  This was our first vacation without alternating rest days with active days.  That was a mistake.  We all loved Times Square and wandering around the city, which means that we should plan more localized rambles in individual neighborhoods while pausing at occasional oases.  I would not exchange the continuing conversations and the shared experiences for all the Spam in Camelot.

May, 2005

2006 Holiday Event Calendar

–This one was edited heavily prior to publication; probably for the best

We here at Family Values Central couldn’t help but notice a recent influx of events for this April 1 holiday. Venturing to the City sub-basement, we confronted the Junior Correspondent in Charge of Press Releases and Staff Tattoos. (His desk had to be moved after an unpleasant incident last April involving the editor, four ounces of vinegar, and a raccoon.) According to the J.C.C.P.R.S.T., “You’d have to be a fool not to call ahead.” Bearing that in mind, here’s the Family Valued April Fool’s Day Calendar:

Event: Gilli-Con’s Island — film series (featuring the entire run of Gilligan’s Planet), collectibles, costume contest, special appearance by Ed Wade of The Wellingtons, UR River Campus 9-1 a.m. Free.

Special Event: Museum of Science Christmas in April Craft Show — crafts, cookies, hot apple cider, holiday music, Museum of Science, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. $2.98 (exact change appreciated).

Exhibition: Memorial Art Gallery Family Fun Day, 1 p.m.: You Can’t Spell Family Without Me, Michael Jackson | 1:05 p.m. Drown Out the Talk Downstairs, Italian Baroque Organ Recital | 2-4 p.m. Let’s Take Down Some of This Stuff and Play With It, Upper Galleries as the mood takes you. Free, bring your own crayons for coloring on the walls.

Lecture: “Mammoth Cave Echoes Lots and Lots” Infant Spelunkers’ Spring Fling, little Johnny Chilliwack, Not-Quite-Nappytime Series at Nazareth Arts Center, 1:30 p.m. — everybody-go-nappy. Free.

Theater: August & Henrik Spell Fun!, visiting artists Ünd Yør Mūūse Tūū Theatre Køllektief from Stockholm present their interpretation of the works of Ibsen and Strindberg for the entire family, with mimes. One performance only, Geva Nextstage, 2:00 p.m. $39.50.

Benefit: Rochester Area Taxidermy Society Father/Daughter Banquet and Pet Exchange, Riverside Convention Center, 5-8 p.m. $35 and 2 air fresheners.

Film: The March of the Curious Lion and the Shaggy Witches by the Dozen (G): Jim Brown leads an all-star, merry band through a treacherous landscape populated by Vanilla Ice, Reese Witherspoon (with a hand puppet shaped like last year’s Best Actress winner), 9 penguins, and a soy latte. Director Wes Craven captures the whimsy of the acclaimed novel and manages to get an amazing performance out of a herd of gerbils. Movies 10, $2.00 (free chew toy to first 100 children).

On Protesters

Decrying the civil disobedience of others is the mistake of a hypocrite. We always reserve the right to ourselves in case something disturbs us enough to move off the sofa, but we demand order if we feel our worldview threatened, let alone our property.

We rain disdain on the strikes by autoworkers in the first half of the last century. And we forget completely the anger that led to the Wisconsin dairy strike of 1933. We measure all protests against the civil rights movement as if anything less than segregation and slavery is beneath humanity’s notice. We draw parallels between the Boston Tea Party and the modern Tea Party demonstrations as if they are matching bookends to American history.  Lest we forget, Henry David Thoreau, American heartthrob for all political stripes, captured an important part of the national character when naming his treatise “Civil Disobedience.”

In short, when we decry the people in the streets, we insist on ignoring how much public protest is in our country’s DNA.

Let’s think about this logically

No matter how you interpret the Constitution, change was integral to the government outlined. Written at a time when power was granted for life and passed on to children, the Founding Fathers made sure our government passed through periodic upheaval. No matter what, our government changes every two years. You can never step in the same Congress twice. In practical terms, it is organized chaos (or chaos with bureaucracy, if you will).

We all love the U.S. Constitution, whether you’re a strict originalist or a living documenter. The text matters. The difference of opinion is how much can be read into it. Sure, both sides twist interpretations to suit their own ends, but let’s start where we all claim to start. The First Amendment reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”

Whether you or I feel it’s appropriate to march outside and wave signs about a particular issue does not enter into the discussion. My lack of interest or sheer laziness does not count for squat. In fact, we’d all be a bit better off if the worst thing we did was look up and say something like, “Hey, look, those people have assembled and are protesting. I can’t read their sign… Oh, all right. I guess that’s a thing. I agree/disagree. Yay for our Constitution.”

Surely, not all protests are peaceable

If we are not there, then we can hardly say just how peaceful the event was. The harm done by the Boston police strike of 1919 was still being argued over a decade later with some claiming chaos ruled while others pointing out that it had hardly seemed necessary to call out the state guard.

It would be naive to suggest that people do not get hurt or property damaged when large groups gather, but that reservation only leads to a debate about what makes a moral protest (which is no more insane than arguing about the moral justification of war, so have at it).

Also, politicians complaining about protesters from outside their district seems somewhat disingenuous if the politician in question accepts donations from beyond those boundaries. If campaign donations are protected as free speech (see Citizens United), then certainly speech is.

Protests occur at the confluence of outrage, planning, and publicity

If you take away the outrage by addressing peoples’ concerns, then you nip the protest in the bud. Eliminate the means to communicate the outrage and you destroy the community necessary for the protest.  Remove the planners and you have a riot.

The surest means for addressing the outrage is considered thought and openness about decisions. Think back on any protest. Un-redressed wrongs inspire outrage. Whether or not you or I perceive the same wrongs, the injured parties feel as though those in authority have ignored their concerns. Protests are never the first choice of the outraged. An acceptable resolution is always preferable. That’s where true politicians, the masters of compromise, should enter the negotiations. (We cannot claim that negotiations have not begun. They started the moment that the powers that be took action on an issue, if not before even then.)

Even flash mobs do not materialize out of nowhere- it only feels that way. Planning is essential to a protest. When someone says, “Didn’t anyone plan this?” what they really mean is “This should have been planned better.” Organization is the distinction between a riot and a protest march. Once again, organization is in the eye of the beholder. Gathering around a bonfire can appear beautiful or terrifying depending on the details.

What if they gave a protest and nobody ever heard about it? If you protest something and the people causing the harm don’t know, then… is that more an outdoor party? Arguably, this is the part where we all get our shorts in a bind. News reaches us that “those people” are complaining about “that thing” and behaving like asses. This is corollary to any message getting out there. We often forget that every protest has two sides: the protesters and the establishment. By definition, if you are protesting, then you feel disenfranchised. The establishment spin-doctors enter the fray and try to manage the negotiation for public consumption, portraying the disenfranchised in a negative way.

Do protests accomplish anything?

If the protest organizers succeed at defining their movement with a concise slogan, then they stand a much better chance of accomplishing their ends. Give [fill in the blank] the vote! Occupy Wall Street! Discrete goals can be accomplished.

Moreover, prepare for the long haul, whether you’re a participant or an observer. Demonstrable long-term support as part of an overall strategy defines a movement and places a single protest within the spectrum of necessary actions. Think of the civil rights movement.

Perhaps this raises the specter of revolution. In practice, modern protests in democratic nations look more like anti-revolutions. Members of our societies have generally bought into the potential for good from their form of government. They demand notice and change in policy, not in structure.

If you’re still not clear on the need for public protests with which you might disagree, you need to watch this documentary about the Hillsborough tragedy. Note the part where the government for years portrayed the victims as hooligans responsible for their own deaths. After watching it, tell me that you don’t want to go out and get in someone’s face. Remind me that you will never have reason to protest because you and yours are completely invulnerable.

Are there any interesting examples to consider from abroad?

If only we could find another place where Europeans appeared and went through the process of forming their own government based on models that they learned about back home. An interesting exception might be if the country in question had laws on the book to prohibit the freedom to assemble. Spin the wheel and it comes up: Australia in 1891! Think of every other historic workers’ union action that you have ever heard about and this pretty much fits with those. Sometimes, the authorities used private militia (like the Pinkertons), but those in power called out the army to end the 1891 Australian shearers’ strike. They arrested the leaders of the strike under an old law that prohibited group assembly, essentially quashing the movement by putting its leaders in jail for years.

Full disclosure- this led to the 1894 Australian shearers’ strike, a more violent affair. After all, the reality is a superficial solution that moves the real issue to a later time for addressing. We endorse suppression because it grants a temporary solution. This is not to suggest that truth, flowers and peace can replace difficult negotiation.  Violence creates the appearance of resolution just as shouting at your opponent creates the appearance of winning an argument. Overreaction is present emotion overcoming rational thought, including reasonable weighing of alternatives to determine what is in everyone’s best interest.

You’re overreacting

Overreacting is where we get counter-protests, the right of those arriving late to the party. Once we have two sides in the streets then we have the necessary publicity cycle to generate topics we can debate around the nation’s water coolers. That’s a negotiation, of sorts.

Perhaps, counter-protests result in nothing more than offering clarity to the other side. Consider that the shutdown of Westboro Baptist demonstrations appears to be done with a weird sort of esprit de corps on both sides.  Suddenly, we have something newsworthy with more people to interview. (Lest we forget, reporters interview participants until they receive something quotable. You don’t get broadcast time or column inches because your interviewee sounded reasonable.)

What is your breaking point?

When have you had enough? Do you need to be one of the Guildford Four or the Maguire Seven? We have the lines that we would like to think we would hold and then there are the real lines. We will never agree or act on the same affronts.

The armchair quarterback response to any protest is that “those people” are overreacting. “They” don’t understand the way the world works. If they did, then they would know: 1) they aren’t going to succeed at changing anything; 2) they are doing their cause more harm than good; and 3) they are simply wrong in their opinion. Reports of violence associated with the protests justify any condemnation that we can make from the comfort of our own homes.

Ultimately, if we are right about either of the first two, then so what? They fail in their efforts. We should allow their ideas to flop on the shoals of progress. On the third point, then we can go ahead and disagree. We can argue their points from a basis in fact, either invest effort or remain passive.

We condemn the protests for not living up to the mythical standards of the movements led by Martin Luther King and Mahatmas Gandhi. Any effort at making the world a better place should be condemned for not matching the legends of the past.

We carry visions of progress through peace- flawless men who never said a false word or hurt a feeling as they changed the world for the better. We must condemn anyone who creates a spectacle.  But there we are wrong. We must not condemn their methods because then we are supporting silence, the ultimate goal of tyrants. We may disagree vehemently, but must argue stridently for the right to argue both sides with facts.

Here is the heart of the problem

Protest is subjective and we want it to be objective.  Our founding fathers recognized that democracy was the struggle of subjective viewpoints to arrive at a common objective purpose. They never foresaw all the various ways that those subjective perceptions could be manipulated, but they hoped that human nature would grow and improve with time. That’s not to claim they expected us to resolve all problems without dispute and argument, merely that our collective wisdom would move us closer and closer to paradise.

What we are really afraid of is that protests will accomplish change for the worse. Then we are going to have to get off our asses and go protest the change. It’s a never-ending cycle. How do we break the cycle? We don’t. The world constantly changes, creating new issues and demanding new solutions. People are going to get angry as we fumble our way forward.

Which leads to another thing- protests are the kettle whistle of democracy. They let people blow off steam instead of boiling over.

Here’s where you should be scared

Let’s look at a different part of the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment ensures the individual right to keep and bear arms.  A popular trope in defense of this right has been a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” Unfortunately, Jefferson never wrote or said that. Even so, it provides a nice summary of this lengthier conservative article.

So, let’s parse this concept in a direction that we might not like. We need guns in order to resist the tyranny of our government. So, tyranny? One person thinks it’s when the government is trying to take the guns and another thinks it’s when the government is trying to dictate whom they can marry.  One thinks it’s when the government seizes property for a new airport and another thinks it’s when the government stops them from building a hotel because of a butterfly.

Let’s just say the government has behaved in some provocative ways. Do we go straight for our guns? Are there some intermediary steps before we grab the old S&W? Perhaps the court system? What if the court tosses the case out for lack of standing? Is it time yet to go for the guns?

I’m thinking that we want people to protest without the guns first. I don’t like the idea of taking away intermediary steps. That’s how you end up with tragedies and complicated messages. Violence subsumes the cause even as it creates the illusion of progress.

But people will escalate

We must not fall into the trap of assuming the protesters have reached a state of last resort. If we back people into a corner, then we must remember there are more of them than we think. If we convince people that their best recourse is violence, then they will resort to it, no matter how much they have decried violence in the past.

Escalation, of course, carries the fear of reprisal by those in power. For those worried about potential retaliation against protesters as they foresee the horrors possible if totalitarian restrictions are imposed on the right to assemble, the path to redressing those wrongs has remained unchanged for decades. The horrible truth is that we have never stopped fighting to maintain our rights in the face of those who would take them from us.

We cannot fear a vile response to a behavior as the reason to avoid the behavior. That’s blaming the victim of oppression for provoking the oppression. Those who feel their rights have been impinged seek their day in court. We proudly tell patriotic stories how our courts have fixed the wrongs forced on minorities by the tyranny of the majority. No doubt we engage in fantasy after the fact as to the ease with which such victories were obtained.

Ultimately

We try to dis-empower protests by attacking legitimate complaints as arising purely from emotion. Our modern society is adept at emotional manipulation through PR tactics, much more so than substantive solutions. Those who claim the role of problem solvers must provide solutions that address root causes and not emotional appeals to political subgroups.

“The important thing is to stand on the side of those who are sad, because they’ve lost something – and even if they have lost nothing. I believe you and I are doing the same thing in this regard. We stand with them and that should be enough for us now, as a sign of our shared attempts to figure things out. Love, Krzysztof. We stand with them. You and I stand with the sad ones.”
-Krzysztof Kieslowski writing to Hanna Krall