Demonstrations, civil unrest, civil war and revolution

29 Sep

I’m too young to have participated in any of the demonstrations of the 60s.  I missed all of that, sitting at home watching it all happen on a tiny screen on a big console black and white television.  Occasionally, the tv repairman would visit our house, replacing some of the mysterious tubes that made the television work.  I still remember the guy’s name…he was Mr. Shumacher.

I remember a lot from the 60s, besides skinning my knees and climbing trees.  I remember the Vietnam War.  That was pretty confusing for a kid.  The death tolls were reported like they were football scores each night.  There was something bone chilling about that report being presented that way that has never left me.

Then there was the demonstrations and the hippies.  The hippies that I saw in North Western Iowa were usually not very clean and smelled pretty bad.  They had long hair and backpacks, and the locals despised them and regarded them as potential thieves.  Associating with them would undoubtedly ruin the youth of the area too.  I didn’t get the hippy thing back then, but there was something about their ability to just take off with their backpacks and a thumb along the highway that seemed so very brave and adventurous to a rural kid.

The demonstrations, on the other hand, with their brief news clips, were somehow terrifying.  This was kids that looked like ones that lived anywhere, mostly because they were.  They were in college, that distant place that everyone wanted to go after high school.  High school seemed very distant too, after all, third graders were practically adults in the eyes of a five year old.  They were HUGE!  But, seeing policeman attacking college kids who didn’t seem to be doing anything wrong was somehow frightening.  Policemen were supposed to be our friends and protectors, but this isn’t what they looked like on television during the demonstrations.  It created a conflict, a question in my mind about how trustworthy the police really were.

For the adults, overheard conversations indicated that the kids being manhandled and shot were somehow “brain washed” (that sounded painful and frightening too.) and under the influence of the “commies”.  I wasn’t sure who a commie was, but it sure sounded bad.  It was also about drugs, which were also apparently different than the drugs from the doctor, and they too were somehow bad.  College became a very frightening concept.  It was no longer this grand adventure that lead to great education, but rather a place that was a lot like a war zone.

Time went on, I grew bigger, and I continued to watch the world around me, as well as the world that came to us via the television.  Policeman, now called cops, weren’t really our friends.  They wanted to ruin our fun and take us to jail.  They had guns that they’d stick in your face even when you hadn’t been doing anything wrong.  They harassed you and frightened you and when they did pat searches, they tended to be more fondling than searching.  Some cops went beyond fondling, and the girls soon shared among them who these culprits were, as they were the ones to steer clear of at all costs.  Your worst nightmare was a set of flashing lights on a rural road, and we were coached early on to continue driving until we got to a town, and never stop on a lonely highway for a policeman.  That didn’t sound much like cops were doing much to protect us, nor like they were a friend.

Not to say that all cops were bad.  There were some very good cops who did stand up for you and for what was right, and those were our friends, the ones we’d turn to when we needed help.  Even then, in the “good old days” it seemed that there weren’t enough of that kind of cop.  Today, as we watch the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, we realize that is still true.  There are some very bad cops, and some very good cops, and a lot in between.  There just aren’t enough good ones to make up for the stuff we see the bad ones doing on one YouTube video after another.

We see the Burger King employee on video refusing to serve demonstrators, despite their courtesy on another YouTube video.  I doubt that employee made that decision on her own, and she probably wasn’t thrilled with having to be the “bad guy” for no more than what she makes…and probably needs to make that money too badly to risk it.  You can’t blame her for needing to stay employed.

A lot of America is in the same shoes I’m in though.  They may agree that Wall Street and the financial industry needs a helluva lot of revision and that a whole lot of things have happened lately that aren’t fair or right, but what is the point of the demonstrations?  What are their goals?  I’m old, I’m past the point of idealism, I want a clear cut plan and a list of objectives.  Angry rhetoric and sign waving is fine when you are twenty something, but after a while, it’s just a blur.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate police brutality, but it’s been around as long as we’ve had police.  That isn’t new, and it’s not going to change too fast either.  The police force tends to attract the kind of person prone to brutality and overstepping their bounds, at least on occasion.  We need a better way of addressing it than a police internal investigation though.  It’s a well known routine that is often referred to as a kangaroo court.  It’s like asking a 5 year old to decide their own punishment.  It happened in New Orleans after Katrina, it happens all the time…and these demonstrations are just one more list of places where things can go badly.

I’ve seen the slogans on the signs, I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos from the demonstrations, and mostly, it seems to be angry youngsters wanting change, but not being very specific about it.  That’s not a good idea–we elected our current president on a platform of unspecified change, and that’s about what we’ve gotten.  We need more than that.  We need jobs.  We need banking reform.  We need a way for people to get back on their feet and get America moving again.

We’re also seeing the demonstrations spreading, as the anger breaks out in one city after another.  It’s a chain and the more links it has, the stronger it will become.  We just don’t know what that chain will lead us to.

For the first time in my life, I’ve heard people speculate about the possibility of civil war happening again, and once again, it’s all about state’s rights.  It’s about banking.  It’s about industry, it’s about jobs, it’s about immigration.  It’s fueled by too many people with no hope of it getting any better.  With no light at the end of the tunnel, what do they have to lose?

It seems the rich get richer, and there are more and more poor every day.  Families can’t afford to fund college for kids who can’t find a job after college anyhow.  Parents are out of work, their homes and cars are being repossessed, and the unemployment is nearly running out.  What do they have to lose?  What do their kids have to lose?

We’re on the brink of change, all right, but it might not be change we want or need.  It may be brought about by violence and anger, rather than logic and planning.  It may be born out of chaos, rather than brought into being in a lawful manner.

What does this mean for the average person?

It means our day to day lives are becoming more uncertain, a state that isn’t geared to encouraging economic growth, and will in fact continue to fuel the circumstances that are leading us down a path that most of us don’t want to walk–the path of a revolution with a civil war.  We’ve had a decade or more of finding differences rather than finding common ground, and we’ve created chasms that are hard to bridge.  It’s time to mend those bridges, with diligence and sincere effort, before our entire society comes crashing down around our ears and we all have an opportunity to watch Rome burn, and to wait for the “barbarians” to come and take over.

Wake up, America, before it’s too late.

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