There were pictures of armed protesters in the Michigan state capitol last week. They came to publicly disagree with governor-ordered restrictions on activity in response to the ongoing viral pandemic. No shots were fired, but the internet flamed with outrage. I remember a day when protests were a bit more dangerous.
Please don’t dismiss this old man’s reflections, but protestors got shot in my day. Unarmed protestors on college campuses were fired upon and killed by the state-run “well ordered militia”: The National Guard.
It’s been quite a while since a public protest has been met with such sanctioned violence. I don’t pine for the good old days. But when I looked at the images of the Michigan protesters with their long guns and side arms, I wonder if any would have had a smidgen of recognition if I’d whispered to them “Kent State”.
When the armed protesters wander through the halls of the Idaho Capitol, declaring through public brandishing of a semiauto their “inalienable” Second Amendment rights, I wonder, do they really expect to be fired upon? Maybe they do. Martyrdom can be powerful. It is less so when sought.
Last week, the Idaho Freedom Foundation organized a protest at a closed Meridian playground. They publicized their intent to protest and filmed it. Unfortunately, the woman who got arrested had to beg for the cuffs for a half hour. She only got them when she refused to leave after being politely asked to do so a dozen times. Her attempt at martyrdom was a sham.
I suspect the Freedom Foundation hoped to inspire widespread civil disobedience in response to Governor Little’s stay at home orders. People are frustrated and anxious. But a sham doesn’t inspire. Maybe they were hoping for shots fired.
Maybe Ammon Bundy was also hoping so when he and some followers, also egged on by the Freedom Foundation showed up at the home of the arresting officer that night to protest and deliver a “citizens summons”. They were asked to leave and they did, no casualties, though I’ll bet showing up at the Ammon ranch near Emmett with a citizen’s summons might get you a warning round or two.
No, sanctioned civil violence against our citizens these days isn’t about protests for a cause. You won’t get shot demonstrating against abortion or marching about global warming. The sanctioned violence that occurs today happens at a traffic stop or a response to a domestic violence call, or even when you are called to dispatch your injured bull on the highway, as Jack Yantis experienced in Council, Idaho a few years ago. Police kill us, though not as often as we kill each other. We are an armed, restless populace. And staying at home can make us grumpy, unsociable, maybe even stupid.
The unarmed students that got shot by Ohio State militia at Kent State fifty years ago were protesting what they considered an illegal war, raging in Southeast Asia. Our government was drafting their colleagues, sending them to kill and die without following the Constitutional requirement that a war can only be declared by an act of Congress. Nixon had just expanded the war to invade Cambodia. The students were outraged. They were protesting. And they were fired upon, nine wounded, four killed.
I remember my mother’s reaction to the deaths. I was a junior in high school, wondering about my draft status and the right and wrong of that war across the Pacific. “They deserved it!” she said. “They shouldn’t have been protesting!” I still get fundraising mailers to her from the Republican Party, though she’s been dead 14 years.
I can’t say I ever protested, though I don’t always like what our government is doing. I did run for political office and served. It was the best I could do to fight for justice. Public service isn’t as inspiring as martyrdom, but neither is it a sham; though it can sure feel like it at times. It shouldn’t.
Dan Schmidt is a family physician who lives in Moscow. Dr. Schmidt, a Democrat, served in the Idaho state senate from 2010 to 2016.