It certainly has gotten nasty with the bizarre and violent protests we’ve been getting in Olympia, not only last week but for a while now. To be clear, I’m not referring to Black Lives Matter or any one of a number of peaceful political protests with a clearly defined purpose and message that we get in our capital city.
Protesting in itself is a patriotic activity. The right to gather non-violently for sending a message to our politicians and other citizens is protected in the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the Bill of Rights. Here’s what it says (my emphasis):
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Though we may not like the message we can’t dispute the right to gather and send that message as long as it’s peaceful and non-violent.
In case you missed it, on Sat., Sept. 4, armed groups identifying as “Proud Boys” and “Antifa” showed up in downtown Olympia. They shouted obscenities, intimidated shoppers and visitors and damaged property. Other right-wing activists have pledged to reassemble in Olympia and Washington, DC this Saturday.
Seems we now have two groups of intense and violent activists from the political extremes facing off with no apparent political agenda except to cause trouble. That seems clear by just looking at how they are dressed and the weapons they carry. After watching some videos that were available about the recent events, plus seeing what the few representatives, or at least people familiar with the groups, were saying, it’s clear that neither group has a good grasp on what peaceful political protest is about. Nor do they seem to perceive, or maybe care, what a negative effect they are actually having on the rest of us.
They don’t seem to understand how to get a political message sent in a way that anyone can understand it. Then again, that might not be their intent. A question to ask ourselves when we want to make a public stand on an issue, either by protesting, publicly speaking, writing, or privately communicating is “Are we trying to get something done, or are we trying to make ourselves feel better?” That question can be used to guide our behavior, moderate our language, and change our approach to a situation. That’s not a bad question to consider in any kind of negotiation or conflict; it can guide us to a more favorable outcome. What we are seeing are people behaving poorly, clearly more interested in themselves than actually trying to accomplish anything.
What are the political goals?
I’m wondering if anyone can actually tell what the political goals of either of these groups are? They both came armed, spoiling for a fight. I’m sure they are convinced of the righteousness of their actions and rationalize their behaviors.
It’s understandable why the political left, those that believe in programs like new forms of public safety funding, progressive taxation, universal health care, don’t like the Proud Boys and what they represent. But they equally dislike the behavior by the Antifa (or Anarchists or whatever flavor-of-the-month group they are) because of the harm they do to how people perceive what progressives believe in and who they are. They undermine efforts to have reasonable discussions or advance political goals, some of which they may even share. Politics are hard enough for both sides without having these clowns get in the way.
What these people don’t seem to comprehend is that they are harming their own cause rather than helping it. Not only do they leave the rest of us angry and resentful, but we are left with shallow and inaccurate stereotypes of those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. The reality is that most folks on the political right are not racist, violent, ignorant bigots any more than those of us on the left are unpatriotic, violent moochers who hate America. Sadly, that’s often what makes the news. We are better than that. Our beliefs have more depth, are complex and shouldn’t be reduced to sound bites or left to those who embody a loud but unrepresentative minority.
The behavior of these groups also puts the police in a precarious position. How they draw the line allowing peaceful protest while dealing with violent groups is fraught with risk. Most likely some of us will be pleased with their actions and some of us will be angry. This is another example of the challenges facing our public safety system. The tone coming from Chief Jelcick in his public statement was clear yet restrained, something we can all appreciate. Ideally this will send a significant enough message to those who would re-create the conflicts we had on September 4.
I don’t personally know anyone in either of these camps causing the trouble. Maybe you do? I’m asking that if you do, please ask them to stop. This kind of behavior, from yelling obscenities at the top of their lungs to breaking windows and tagging buildings only makes things worse and more hostile while doing nothing to address any of the many real problems and challenges that we face. We have to do what we can to stop this community-destroying behavior. Hopefully there is a way for the more level-headed among us to reach out and stop this damaging behavior before it escalates into something worse.
Pat Cole - email@example.com - is a former member of Olympia's city council. As a private citizen, he seeks to set a positive tone and lead informed discussion about local civic issues.