The art of protest

Other Staff

Although military action in Iraq may soon be over, the issues raised by the conflict will remain for years to come.

One of the most important questions raised is if it is “unpatriotic,” as some charge, for protesters to march while troops are in the field.

Recently both antiwar and “pro-troop” protesters have marched in streets around the world voicing their opinions on the conflict. Some opposed to such peace marches claim that seeing images of such actions at home will demoralize troops. Republicans have taken this a step further, saying that Democrats who question the president’s policies during wartime are unpatriotic.

This argument unfortunately leads to a slippery slope: if protesting one side is not allowed, then is speech truly free?

Some believe that antiwar protesters are in the streets not to protest any policies of the Bush Administration but to merely protest its existence. As true as this may be for some groups, it is impossible to say that none of them have a legitimate grievance with the way the war has been executed.

Also, proposals by some that would crack down hard on protests amount to essentially an infringement of the Constitutional rights of peaceful assembly and free speech.

The so-called “patriotic” feeling that protest is “anti-American” amounts to essentially the very attitude that dictators thrive upon: that dissent is “unpatriotic” or even treasonous.

As much as the liberties of the marchers should be preserved, their actions in the past have demonstrated a misunderstanding of how to best get their message across to lawmakers. Recent violent protests in San Francisco that caused both huge traffic hazards and property damage will do little to dissuade the administration from future military action. They are also pointlessly sadistic and are antithetical to the marcher’s own message of nonviolence.

For the antiwar movement to have any hope of success, they must change their tactics to selectively target their actions. Picketing of a Congressman’s offices, for example, would be infinitely more useful than tying up traffic.

Similarly, the “pro-war”/”pro-troop” movement has of late showed itself to be intolerant of others’ opinions, particularly the threats of violence against other groups primarily shared via right-wing talk radio.

While most protesters are nonviolent in nature, the radicals on both sides give their movements bad names.