A good friend of mine is a Canadian that grew up in Lebanon. His family still owns a bit of land that is situated between two of the refugee camps. It is a bleak scene by all accounts. I asked him what he learned growing up in that kind of environment. He said, "I learned it only takes a very few people to screw it up for everybody."
I had the same impression as I watched the "9/12 tea party march on Washington" this past week. It is fine for any group to demonstrate. That is their right. But I am also a bit perplexed why a campaign that has a few thousand people should be getting the same kind of coverage in the media that other marches involving millions, such as those for the civil rights movement, receive. I am also perplexed that the media doesn't make a distinction between hate-filled Nazi style sloganeering messages and slogans that call for something.
It is clear that at least some of the mob is racially motivated -- as reflected both by brandishing the Swastika and by "witch doctor" imagery. These people should be ashamed and ignored as just plain ignorant and despicable. For the remainder, however, it is appropriate to listen and try to at least understand and hopefully engage in a civil discourse even if most of the participants in the "tea party" don't seem interested. It is clear they are concerned about spending levels, as are many liberals. It is clear they are against what they call the "liberal media," even though "conservative" media is at least as prominent. It is clear they are against higher taxes, even though President Obama is honoring his promise not to increase taxes for the majority so far. It is clear they are against reforming our health care system, even though: a) we will pay for the uninsured one way or another anyway, b) the current costs are totally out of control, and c) the quality of the current system is 37th in the world. And it is clear they are against anyone who disagrees with their view.
Contrast this to Martin Luther King's clarifying distinction that he was not so much "against discrimination" as he was "for equality." I have yet to hear what the "anti-activists" in this campaign are for. I cannot believe that they are all so blind as to not acknowledge that if they do defeat the current campaign for reform, the problems won't go away. What do they propose to do? In the absence of a constructive alternative, they should be heard but not taken seriously. They are a few thousand hard-core individuals intent on destroying possibility and undermining the man that a majority of Americans elected.
We cannot and should not stop their speech, but we can and should turn off the endless ranting and ratings-motivated media hype this sort of nonsense creates. When a few people occupy the time and "conversational space" of the majority, then it is no longer about free speech. It is about communication strategy. And it only takes a few to mess it up for everyone.
© Jim Selman. All rights reserved.
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