I’ve noticed a very interesting development over the last few weeks since the Occupy movement has really taken off. At first the criticism was that the protestors were vague and didn’t know what they were protesting. This became a pretty hard myth to push once it became very clear their position was quite simple: It is unfair that one group of people (billionaires) and one subset of society (corporations) are held to one standard while another group of people (the 99%) and another subset of society (small independent businesses) are held to entirely another standard. The message really doesn’t get any more simple that that. All of the complaints; that wealthy people are overly represented in our elected houses (both in the US and Canada) that corporations don’t pay enough taxes, that government is in bed with corporations, all of the complaints fit under that very simple belief of unfairness.
After it became impossible to criticize the lack of purpose, the next criticism, and the one that I find most intriguing, is that people supporting the Occupy movement are unpatriotic, and hate their country.
This criticism baffles me. There is perhaps nothing more inherently American than a big loud protest against tyranny. This was in fact how the country was founded. Canada and the US are two children of the same mother. America, her loud, brash, and passionate first born left the house in a fiery fit of rage holding up both middle fingers because he wasn’t going to take her crap anymore. Canada flipped back and forth on which side he supported until he too left the house a few years later. But instead of a fiery fit of rage, it was more a terse conversation with Mother insisting he couldn’t make it without her. Canada was the equivalent of a 40 year old basement dwelling online role playing game addict who never had a girlfriend when he was finally dragged out over 100 years later. So perhaps protest is a bit more unusual north of the 49th parallel, but there can be no question protest is in fact part of what makes America the great country it is.
But this kind of criticism, the straw man of suggesting that anyone speaking out against government therefore hates the country is not new. In fact it’s a constant and timeless tactic, one I became most familiar with during my university days where anyone who suggested the Israeli government was anything less than a model of humanitarianism and compassion toward its Arab citizens and Palestinian refugees was branded an anti-semite who thought at the very least Hitler had a press problem.
It’s a tired argument meant to work people up but it doesn’t hold water. To suggest that people who protest the current state of affairs in their city, country, or world do not love that world is as absurd as to suggest a parent who grounds their child for sneaking out or refuses to allow a drug addicted child to live at home does not love their child. Sometimes people we love do wrong things and as people who care we speak out to correct those wrongs. In fact it is one of the most loving acts one can do, to say “no you’ve gone too far and I won’t stand by and watch this in silence any longer.”
Why on earth would it be any different when applied toward a country?
There is an annoying tendency for those in power to associate themselves with the entity they control. Many years ago a friend of mine ran a petition to remove a corrupt executive from the helm of his student union. They responded by suing him for defaming the union. His defense was that he hadn’t defamed the union at all. If he’d defamed anyone, it was the individual. In fact he loved the union and that was why he was running the petition. They couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that, no, they personally were not the union.
Likewise, protesting the antics of government officials, of big business lobbying, of the way a codependent relationship was formed leading to housing crises and student loan crises… this does not in any way translate to “F*CK THE USA!” as some insist it does.
Rather, the protest is pointing out the pain being bestowed by these actions. Those protestors? They are fighting for freedom as much as any soldier. Freedom from corporate sponsors, from collusion. The people who fret that “if industry goes down no one will have jobs” sounds more like an abuse victim begging their fellow victims to be quiet and act real nice so not to piss off the abuser, blaming those who speak out for the angry temper tantrums the abuser throws.
Call them idealists. Call them unrealistic, Call them impractical. But let’s get to the point and have a conversation. Covering it up in accusations of anti-patriotism does nothing but avoid the issues.
Oh wait, was that the idea?