Friday, May 25, 2007


Doth the People Protest Too Much?

Right now the state legislator is pushing through legislation that requires protesters to stand 150 feet away at funerals. At the same time, anti-war protesters and anti-anti-war protesters gathered outside the Coast Guard Academy’s graduation. Is it really appropriate to stage protests at funerals and graduations?

This winter a number of my students went and protested the protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church who were at an East Lyme soldier’s funeral voicing their view that the war in Iraq is God’s punishment for America’s tolerance for homosexuality. I was impressed with the students; they asked the soldier’s parents for permission first and were lauded for their maturity and positive presence. I found the protesters behavior abhorrent. How could anyone find it acceptable to encroach on a family’s grief for such an irrational, mean spirited argument?

I found the protesters at Wednesday’s graduation more understandable. While I disagree with their positions, if you have the President speaking, you open yourself up to vocal opposition.

In both cases I wish people wouldn’t protest. A funeral should be a memorial to a loved one, not a political forum; a graduation should be a symbol of the graduates’ achievements, not a publicity stunt for those with a vendetta against the president. At the same time, I don’t think we should be passing legislation that further limits people’s freedom of speech. Nothing can be accomplished from silencing individuals.

In some ways I admire protesters. What America really needs is more open debate, more educated people who feel strongly enough about an issue to be willing to stand outside and wear those opinions. What I’d like though are educated people, people whose signs say more than “Bush for Jail” or “War, Don’t Do It.” Protests only give people the opportunity for catch phrases and anger. I want more letters to the editor, informal discussions, and politicians whose positions are more substantial than the two-dimensional stance of his or her party. Protesters, think about the real people involved in the events you gather around, not just the statement your presence will make. The rest of us, let’s have the courage of the protesters to forget social correctness and voice our political opinions.

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