Protest politics

Published May 9, 2024

By Gary Pearce

Two things have been true throughout American history: We love to protest, but we hate protesters.

And bashing protesters is always good politics.

Protesting is deep in our DNA. Protesters settled the country. The American Revolution was the ultimate, violent protest.

Ever since, we’ve cycled through protest and repression.

When abolitionists protested slavery, Southern slaveowners tried to silence them, then seceded from the Union and started the Civil War.

When freed slaves exercised their rights, the Ku Klux Klan whipped, terrorized and lynched them, and politicians passed Jim Crow laws and imposed white supremacy.

When industrial workers went on strike, big business goons and government troops beat and shot them.

When pacifists protested World War I, Woodrow Wilson’s administration threw them in prison.

When women marched for the right to vote, police broke it up and locked them up.

When Black people protested for civil rights and voting rights, Southern cops and white racists attacked them with dogs, billy clubs, fire hoses and firebombs.

Richard Nixon and George Wallace built their political careers on bashing civil-rights and antiwar protesters.

Ronald Reagan bashed war protesters at Berkeley and got elected governor of California, then President.

Today, the cycle repeats. Young people protest the war in Gaza, and politicians pounce.

Trump and MAGA Republicans are outraged by protesters on campus, but excuse the January 6 assault on the Capitol.

They denounce the Palestinian flag, but don’t blink at Confederate flags and swastikas.

They decry antisemitism, but didn’t raise a peep when white supremacists in Charlottesville chanted “Jews will not replace us!” (photo).

Mark Robinson – the Republican candidate for governor, who once said “this foolishness about Hitler disarming MILLIONS of Jews and then marching them off to concentration camps is a bunch of hogwash” – now poses as a friend of Israel.

That’s another great American tradition: political hypocrisy.