Protesting With Their Feet

Yesterday Vice President Mike Pence gave the commencement address at the Notre Dame  University graduation ceremony in South Bend, Indiana.  As Pence began speaking, dozens of graduating students walked out.

22746804-mmmainThe theme of the Vice President’s address was the importance of freedom of speech and tolerance for different points of view, on college campuses and elsewhere.  Many conservative commentators made fun of the students who walked out on Pence’s speech, deriding them as delicate “snowflakes” who simply couldn’t bear to hear opposing views and finding it paradoxical that the students would walk out on a speech that urged them to listen to other, opposing perspectives.

I’ve had a lot of problems with the trampling of free speech rights on college campuses these days, but in this instance I think the critics are wrong.  The Vice President was exercising his free speech rights by giving an address with the content of his choice, and the students were exercising their free speech rights by walking out on the speech as a protest of Trump Administration policies.  The students exited stage left not because they are “snowflakes” who felt they simply couldn’t withstand Pence’s commencement address — a sentiment, incidentally, that many people who have attended overlong, droning college commencement speeches would secretly share — but because walking out was a visible sign of profound disagreement with the views of the speaker.  It’s a form of the kind of silent protest that we’ve seen many times in American history.

In fact, I commend the Notre Dame protesters, because their protest was non-violent and respectful of Pence’s free speech rights.  They didn’t try to shut him up, in contrast to other recent incidents on campus in which agitators have used violence to prevent some people from speaking — such as the mob that shamefully disrupted a lecture by scholars with different viewpoints at Middlebury College and, in the process, gave a Middlebury professor whiplash and a concussion.  The Notre Dame students had every right to “vote with their feet” and send Pence a message that they disagree with what the Trump Administration is doing, and they found an appropriate way to send that message.

I wish more people would listen to opposing viewpoints and try to understand them, but I’m more concerned about people who think that just because they disagree with someone that person shouldn’t be permitted to speak at all — something that is antithetical to one of the most important rights guaranteed to all Americans.  Based on the protest yesterday, I’d say that a Notre Dame education has given those graduates a pretty good understanding of how the Bill of Rights is supposed to work.

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The Women’s March

Today is one of those days when Facebook really serves a purpose.

Take a look at your Facebook page this morning, as I did mine.  You’ll probably see photos of some of your Facebook friends and family members out marching yesterday.  In Washington, D.C., Cleveland, San Antonio, California, and many other places across the country, women, and men, were out expressing their views, wearing their knit caps and serving notice to the new Administration that they would be watching.

womens-march-on-cleveland-8601595cb6a134a9It was an impressive display, and it makes a powerful statement about the strength of participatory democracy in our country.  When hundreds of thousands of people get off their duffs on a weekend and go out to protest, it shows they care in a way that a phone call or sending a form letter to a Senator or Representative can’t really express.  And speaking as someone who served my time working in a Congressman’s office in Washington, D.C., the politicians will take notice of this display, and think about what it means and how it should affect what they do going forward.

Regardless of our political views, we should all applaud this kind of exercise, where the ordinary people of the land see fit to act.  Our governmental system depends on people voting, of course, but it also depends on people actually paying attention — watching our elected representatives, learning about what they are doing, and holding them accountable when they err or stray.  We should all worry when the people are too bored, or apathetic, or trusting to keep track of the politicos.  Similarly, the news media doesn’t do its job when it’s too cozy with the inside-the-Beltway bigwigs and becomes a willing participant in the government’s desired messaging.

In the first days of his Administration, Donald Trump has already accomplished something important that he may well not appreciate:  he’s gotten people engaged, pro and con, in a way that simply didn’t exist before.  It’s a good thing.

Interesting Events In Iran

Protests apparently are starting up again in Iran after a hiatus that occurred following the government crackdown.  Logically, there are at least two possible reasons for the sudden reemergence of such public dissent.  The first possibility is that there has been some kind of subtle political change, undetected by Western observers, that has signalled that such protests will be tolerated.  The other possibility is that the protestors have simply become impatient and are going to force the issue, whatever the consequences.  Let’s hope it is the former, but we should know soon enough.