Protestors: They March for Themselves
On the day President Bush was re-inaugurated, protesters clogged the streets of downtown Portland, Oregon with their usual lashing-out-in-your-face performance-art shtick. It took me thirty minutes to get home. It usually takes me five. Almost 80 percent of Multnomah County, which includes downtown Portland, voted for John Kerry. You have to go out into the eastern suburbs toward Mt. Hood before you’ll find a place where Bush supporters number significantly above 20 percent. So what, exactly, was the point of blockading and snarling tens of thousands of fellow Kerry-voters in traffic?
The objective certainly wasn’t to persuade them to vote differently next time. Nor did the protest have any chance whatever of changing the outcome of the election or preventing Bush’s inauguration. The activists marched for themselves. They were their own audience. Everyone else was a prop. Everyone else’s eyes were mere mirrors. If they had any practical effect on the ground it was the alienation of their moderate allies.
I don’t think protesting is necessarily the wrong way to go about making a political statement. The civil rights movement clearly was bolstered by protests. (Besides, white supremacists deserved to be confronted in the streets by their properly furious countrymen.) But blockading city streets and rankling your own political allies is one of the more ridiculous ways a person can spend time and energy. Truly, there are better and more productive ways to get therapy. A grown-up discussion is oxygen for a healthy democracy. But our democracy does not need, and has no use for, losers who pointlessly lash out in anger at their own community.
I don’t want to deny anyone’s right to protest. This is America, not Syria. Still, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Disgruntled Bush-haters have every right go to door to door in their neighborhoods and tell everyone to piss off. But they really ought not.
Indeed. And, frankly, while the right of people to express their dissatisfaction with their government should not be impeded, it may be time to seriously clamp down on this particular form of protest. It was one thing in a time before automobiles and traffic jams. But allowing people “marching for themselves” to disrupt the lives of their countrymen (who also get the added insult of having to bear the cost of thousands of dollars in police overtime and additional trash pickup) is too high a price to pay for their self-expression.
We have established over the course of decades that, while one’s right to get one’s message out is absolute, restrictions on time, place, and manner are perfectly reasonable. If the manner of one’s expression significantly interferes with the rights of others, the public has a right to put limits on it.