I spent last week in Reno, Nev., attending the American Legion’s national convention, and I was again reminded of the power of mass demonstration. The Veterans Administration was finally established after veterans groups demonstrated for compensation after the First World War. These groups remained peaceful until law enforcement dispersed them.
The first order of convention business was to announce the re-affirmation of a 1923 resolution on law enforcement and tolerance. I am quoting it because it goes along with the preamble of the Legion’s constitution, which includes the words “to make right the master of might:”
“RESOLVED, By the National Executive Committee of The American Legion in regular meeting assembled in Reno, Nevada, on August 21, 2017, That The American Legion considers any individual, group of individuals, or organizations, which creates, or fosters racial, religious or class strife among our people, or which takes into their own hands the enforcement of law, determination of guilt, or infliction of punishment, to be un-American, a menace to our liberties, and destructive to our fundamental law; and, be it finally RESOLVED, That The American Legion considers such action by any individual, groups, or organizations, to be inconsistent with the ideals and purposes of The American Legion.”
The Times-News published a superb editorial about violent activists and the GOP. In fact, the harm done by demonstrations for intolerance has been amply noted. There hasn’t been a lot said, however, about the violent group infiltrating the peaceful counter demonstrations, the AltFA (alt-fascism). They proclaim that they are on the side of the angels, fighting violence with violence, but they are not. Wearing black and brandishing clubs, destroying property, if not lives, is not acceptable. It is simply terrorism. Violent intimidation is wrong no matter what the cause.
Civil disobedience is carefully choreographed. Decisions are made as to where to demonstrate and even who will volunteer to engage law enforcement and be arrested. Large marches are groups who gather, produce signs and enjoy the feeling of being with like-minded people energized by their cause. All of this is done to indicate support in opposition to the status quo and for change.
Although mass demonstration is not my cup of tea, individual demonstration is. I choose to write this column to demonstrate a set of beliefs. I choose to engage politicians in discussion in order to change their mind or understand their perspective on issues. I choose to belong to organizations which to some degree reflect my values and are active in demonstrating them. I may bore my friends and acquaintances by standing on my soapbox and voicing my opinions too often, but I am passionate about many causes.
As a veteran, I am only too aware of the cost of war. There are, of course, the human casualties, but there is also the problem of restoring a civil society. Violent demonstration destroys not only property and lives, it destroys hope. War is considered a last resort because of its wide-range destruction. Violent demonstration is nothing less than localized war without a just cause and no victor.
There is strong reason for the Bill of Rights and its First Amendment. Free thought brings us closer to the solution of problems. Demonstrations can have positive outcome. The VA and civil rights legislation are two examples. I urge you to demonstrate, in every way comfortable for you, the thoughts you have on the causes you care about. Disagreement is always permissible. Violence is not.