“These students have to learn what law and order is all about” - President Richard Nixon, to General Robert Canterbury, Ohio National Guard, at Kent State University, May 4, 1970
“I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country.” - Rep. Eric Cantor, describing the Occupy Wall Street movement, October 7, 2011
Quick question. Describe the most important American value, the most inalienable right that we as Americans have. Life? Liberty? Pursuit of happiness? Yes, those are all guaranteed in our Constitution and are pretty damn important. But I am going to offer up what I think the most important right we as citizens have -
The right to dissent.
Dissent. The right to freely express disagreement with a person, an institution or a government without fear of reprisal; without fear of your life, liberty or pursuit of happiness being infringed upon. The right to protest perceived injustices. This, to me, is what makes us unique in the world. We not only allow dissent, we embrace it.
That is, until someone in power does not like it.
I placed two quotes at the top of this story to illuminate. The first was how then-president Nixon described the student protests at Kent State University. For context, Nixon had chosen to invade Cambodia five days earlier as part of the expansion of the Vietnam War. This touched off protests around college campuses, and in the instance of Kent State, to students holding rallies on campus that included the burying of the Constitution since, it was concluded, Nixon chose to ignore it by invading a country without seeking Congressional approval first. To be fair, there was some violence - students trashed downtown Kent and set fire to the ROTC building on campus.
Five days later, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on the protesters who were peaceably assembling on campus, killing four and wounding nine.
Fast-forward to 2011 and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Now this movement does not have the same level of starkness as Kent State; in other words, the OWS movement seems more concerned about economic unfairness rather than escalation of a war that students soon saw themselves forced to fight - and possibly die - in. But that does not make their cause any less just. It is dissent over injustice. And it is spreading.
Now, read Eric Cantor’s quote again. Note the use of the word ‘mob’. I do not know about you, but that one word sends a chill up my spine. These are people that, to date, have been nonviolent young people dissenting. They are practicing an inalienable right of all Americans. They are, in essence, patriots. Our country was founded on dissent. They are simply mimicking the behavior we revere when we read about Revere.
The chilling aspect of Cantor’s quote is this is how the table gets set for violence. We have seen it before at Kent State - first you vilify the protesters, then you shoot them. As an aside, there were a number of things the Kent State protesters were being called - “Brown shirts”…”The worst kind of humans”…and this was by the governor of Ohio at the time, James Rhodes. It was no wonder that armed soldiers were placed on the campus at his order. They had to, as Nixon’s quote said ‘learn what law and order was all about’.
Well they did.
So I now have a familiar fear about these OWS protesters. The political propaganda machine, at least on the Republican side, is being geared up. They are not dissenting Americans, they are now ‘mobs’ according to Cantor.
The slippery slope to violence has started. Touched off, not by those exercising their rights, but by those who take exception to their use of them. I fully expect in the coming days of a “report” of these dissenters vandalizing property or endangering the lives of regular folks. Because that will give Cantor and his ilk the ammunition needed to, well, show them what law and order is all about.
And we will have to bury more young people killed at the hands of their government.