As those who follow this blog know I rarely editorialize about a topic other than writing. However, with all the demonstrations occurring after our presidential election, with the shouting and anger, I feel I need to comment on this subject.
Like the students who now are taking to the streets protesting election results, I too did my share of demonstrating. In the 60’s it was against the Vietnam War. “Hell no we won’t go” was our chant as we tried to convince the powers in Washington to stop sending our young men to war. We were passionate, angry, and felt powerless as individuals. Only as a group, marching down a NYC street, doing sit-ins at public places and parading our placards in the plaza by the UN did we feel anyone could be heard. Even our teachers turned a blind eye to our cutting classes. We were loud, we were filled with passion, but we were peaceful. We stayed on topic and did not harass those who disagreed with us.
Part of being a citizen in this great country is the right to protest, to voice dissenting opinion, to speak our minds for or against something. It is a right that the young people who are now gathering on the streets in so many cities across the country are heir to. But the operative word for these protests is “peaceful”. You can be angry and loud, but you don’t destroy property, physically attack someone who disagrees with you, or shout racial slurs. So far most of the protesters just want their fears heard. But those who have gone down the slippery slope of violence, have violated this sacred right.
It is important that this fearful minority are listened to. Words matter, as we saw all too clearly during the presidential campaign. It was all those words spoken by the candidates that planted these fears into the minds of the listeners. It was also words spoken that motivated so many to make their choice once inside the voting booth. And sometimes words NOT spoken can be just as powerful in creating a tsunami of fears of the unknown.
So protesters, keep shouting, keep holding up your signs, let our new president elect know what is troubling you. But respect your fellow Americans even if their words conflict with yours.
And President Elect Trump, I would ask that you take some time out of your busy schedule to listen to what these protesters are saying. You made a good effort in your interview on 60 Minutes Sunday when you did reassure people that some of their fears were unfounded. Especially when you revealed that you did not agree with messages of hatred and racism. However, fear does not go away through the speaking of a few words. It will take action to prove that the words of your current messages are true, but for now we are weeks away from that time when you can act. But you still can use words, now and in the weeks to come, to reach out to all. Repeating messages containing words of reassurance will set their minds at ease.
Words matter, as the drafters of our Constitution knew only too well!