Ansel Head’s college education failed to include courses on civil disobedience, even though it was all the rage during that time. Yes, his friend Gates did organize a Viet Nam War protest one sunny afternoon; but Head recalls only two people showing up – Gates and a reporter from his college newspaper. Head and his colleagues had more important, cultural matters to attend to: Girls wanted wooing and beers were under threat of growing warm.
So when Head’s friend Larry sent him an email about a Veterans’ March protesting the President’s closing of the World War II memorial, Head decided that it was time to expand his education. After all, he was a veteran, and he always loved World War II movies.
Larry was no ordinary protester. He is a retired Navy Capitan who ran the SEAL school. In his spare time, he likes to hunt down and expose SEAL impersonators. Head’s cubicle drawer is filled with Larry’s business cards from various causes he supports. It’s a veritable treasure trove for snooping government types trying to sniff out those opposed to those in the in-power crowd. They need not search such places, however, for Larry speaks his beliefs openly and without reservation in the public square. He also has a good accountant to shield him from an IRS audit.
The issue at hand was that the President had closed the memorial sites on the Mall in Washington while the government was in recess over Obamacare and other spending issues. In doing so, he had turned away now feeble World War II veterans who had come to visit their Memorial. That irritated veterans from later wars. And so, as is the American way, a protest was organized.
Head arrived early on that rainy Sunday morning. People were already milling around behind the barricades, wired shut in an attempt to keep people outside of the Memorial. Some had already reconnoitered the field by crossing the barriers; no park rangers were to be seen. Media cameras were in place, ready to publish the carnage if any took place.
Celebrities seeking notice, politicians looking for a parade to lead, a few whack-jobs wanting to steal the message, and thousands of real veterans soon started arriving. The veterans cut the cables that joined the barricades, dismantled and stacked them neatly in a pile, and moved quickly onto the Memorial grounds. There were speeches which no one could hear, much singing, some posturing, many media interviews, flags waiving, and general satisfaction with the civil disobedience. Head stood by, making notes with his trusty Nikon so he could study his course in the calm of his cubicle.
One crazy was waving a Confederate flag; and the media reported that another idiot got the microphone and told President Obama to take his Quran and come out with his hands up. Head had not heard him; indeed the loud speakers were so weak, he had not heard any of the speeches. These loons saddened and disturbed Head and his organizer friend. Head had gone to join other veterans to show his government how they should act: The public open air monuments should remain open as they had always been open during the many, many other arguments over spending and government priorities.
Meanwhile back at the event, Capitan Larry did what any good Naval Officer worth his salt does. Out of view of the cameras, he spoke kindly and respectfully to the veterans who still bore scars from war. Bending over wheel chairs, he listened to their stories and thanked them for their service and sacrifice. He told Head, “It makes them feel better if only a little.” Head agreed, followed his lead, and did the same.
The speeches ended. Someone in the crowd yelled: “Mr. Obama, tear down this barricade. Onward to the Viet Nam and Lincoln Memorials.” And that’s what they did. Once these were re-opened, the veterans deposited the metal barriers at the White House gates and went home.
Head was only a sophomore, a wise fool as some would say, in this civil protest business; he had stood by and let a few nuts steal the message and turn something proper and noble into an ugly, easily exploited episode. He had learned his lesson well and vowed if he ever attended another rally which he felt important, he would interfere with those who maligned his cause. A responsible Naval Officer, even a junior one, has to keep his sailors safe by getting the bad ones out of the way.
His course in civil disobedience had also led him to another observation. Even to the non-Ivy League educated Head, it seemed clear that Larry’s lesson was far more egalitarian and American than the in-vogue Occupying Someplace curriculum sponsored by the more educated elites, where their foot soldiers had to squat in city parks, guard women from rape, and neglect long established public health issues regarding human excrement.
Getting out on Sunday morning and joining other veterans had been great fun, even if President Obama immediately re-closed the monuments. Their message had been tarnished and bastardized into a racial slur. The in-power crowd had an easy way out. If Head were a cynic, he might even wonder whether the whack-jobs at the Veterans’ event were sent there to do just that.