I’ve never liked protests. And I’ve seen lots of ‘em. Too many. Now, we’re seeing more of ‘em. But, this latest journey into nighttime hell has devolved into just plain rioting. And in some places, killing.
Yes, I suppose there’s a “cause” or two that have warranted public displays of “protest.” But, after all these years in a long life, I’ve not seen many that resulted in immediate or major change.
The heavily armed fools that faced off with the Michigan State Police, while carrying their automatic weapons, created more opposition to themselves than support for their dangerous message. They fomented a lethal situation in the Michigan State House that avoided violence only by the practiced, passive resistance of the police.
Protests in the streets are older than our nation. Some have been peaceful, others have resulted in armed resistance and death. Too often, death.
Those of us who remember the escalating stateside violence of Viet Nam war days can recall societal divisions that went from a few hippie walks down a quiet street to the Kent State murders when the Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded a dozen others. Unarmed students marching through the campus streets. Protesting. Flags, banners, shouting slogans and singing. Until the armed military showed up and the shooting began.
That same year, I was a street reporter for the nation’s first all-news radio station in Washington DC. That same year, I got my first taste of protests on a scale not seen in this nation before that time. Some were 100-thousand people - some were 200-thousand and more.
Naturally, street reporters for all the major radio and Tv networks were assigned to cover the demonstrations which often meant walking with the marchers and recording the speeches of their leaders. A difficult job in the best of times. In 1970, amid 200-thousand angry protestors, that was not the “best of times.”
Knowing oner specific anti-war march would be huge, Richard Nixon called on an old friend - O. Roy Chalk. Chalk owned the vast D.C. Transit system comprised of hundreds of busses.
The night before the largest march of its kind to that time, Chalk placed about a hundred busses in a bumper-to-bumper ring around the White House and adjoining buildings. The idea was to keep protesters from getting anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Nixon hid inside, behind the ring of busses.
What we discovered during the huge demonstration across the street at the Washington Monument was inside those busses were DC cops and secret service armed with rifles and shotguns. They kept a low profile but, watched closely, you could seen them move around.
In the middle of the speeches, suddenly the various police agencies started moving on the crowd. Some, in cars, pickups and even horses, drove straight through the crowd. People - frightened people - started running in all directions.
I was on the edge of the mass of people near the monument where we could patch into the public address system to record the proceedings.
Without warning, a mounted DC cop ran me to the ground from behind. Several others, too. He pulled the horse around sharply and made a second run. No one was hurt but not because he didn’t try.
For a few days after that experience, the thoughts of what I’d been through were ever-present. The size of the crowd. The horses and vehicles running through a defenseless crowd of mostly young people there, many mostly for an after-march concert by Peter, Paul and Mary, Kris Kristopherson and the Limelighters.
But, it was the busses I remembered most. Those damned blue busses with rifle-toting cops inside. And snipers. Snipers there to protect a scared little man who was crazily sending a generation to war with absolutely no definable reason. A war without reason we would eventually lose. America lost on the battlefield.
There were other marches. Mostly peaceful. Large turnouts. Sometimes small turnouts. Most were carefully organized. Some seemingly random. There were so many.
Now, go from that senseless governmen- sponsored reaction dealing with unarmed American youth to the Michigan State House with nut cases carrying automatic weapons to confront police determined to keep the peace with non-violent, passive resistance.
What has happened to us? What has happened to our country? Why are armed “citizens” demanding restaurants, bars, barber shops, mass merchandisers and others open their doors to crowds during the worst, most deadly pandemic this country has faced in a hundred years? What has made an overpriced beer more important than a neighbor’s life? What about fast food workers being shot for asking customers to wear masks?
I still think of those damned busses. Those damned snipers. That damned mounted cop who put me under his horse.
But now - now the guns are on the other side. Automatic weapons are being used to intimidate a government into allowing innocent people to be victimized by an invisible enemy that kills mercilessly. One that will continue to kill if we don’t follow some simple rules.
Protests. Demonstrations. Resistance to authority. Armed resistance. Pick a side. It’s become the new “American way.”