(Pie and photo by Helen Atkinson-Barnes)
Author: Helen Atkinson-Barnes, published in this week’s Sag Harbor Express
Why are all these people protesting? I’ve been hearing this question since the day after the election, when college students across the country, including my daughter, first flooded in to the streets. I continue to hear this question asked – sometimes sincerely other times cynically – following more recent uprisings. Many seem bewildered or incensed, by the Women’s March, the spontaneous airport demonstrations against the immigrant ban, the uproar on social media and in the press about conflicts of interest, and the flood of visits, phone calls and letters to members of congress.
I’ve also heard those questioning the protests answer their own question by dismissing people speaking out as “senseless,” “unpatriotic,” or even as just a bunch of “whiny,
spoiled brats.” I would reply by saying that these protests are as American as apple pie.
We who speak out are doing so in an effort to protect the principles that make this country great. In accordance with these ideals, the protests so far have been overwhelmingly positive and peaceful. To borrow from Martin Luther King Jr: We have a dream.
We have a dream of a respectful nation: that no matter who you are–no matter your color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, income, religion, age, disability, or country-of-origin–we are all members of the human race. We all have the right to be treated fairly and to be measured by our deeds and not by our identities.
We have a dream of an informed and thoughtful nation: with public education for all and a free and honest press celebrating truth and the open exchange of ideas.
We have a dream of a healthy nation: where all people are protected from disease and unsafe conditions and are able to get care when they are sick.
We have a dream of a pristine nation: with unspoiled public parks for all to visit, clean water for all to drink, pure air for all breathe, and a safe climate for all to inhabit.
We have a dream of a connected and accessible nation: with well-repaired public roads and bridges; walkways, waterways, and parks; public transportation and telecommunications.
We have a dream of a safe nation: a place where people can live free from the fear of international terrorism and of domestic violence, of street violence and of systemic
We have a dream of an open nation: not a country that is shut off behind walls, punitive tariffs, and immigration bans, but instead interconnected with the world to boost prosperity and peace through trade and travel.
Haven’t we all been taking this dream for granted? These values are under attack by those in our government who would trample on the truth with “alternative facts,” stir up fear and resentment or use power for personal advantage.
Civilization depends upon civic engagement, which must not end at the ballot box. I hear too many people say, “Suck it up, it’s out of your hands now,” or “It’s just too painful to pay attention.” I get it. But it also can be empowering to take action. And while we need to pace ourselves, and pick our battles, at the very least we should try.
Like apple pie, protest is sweetly and deeply American. Whether individual or collective, a conversation or a rally, written or spoken, somber or satiric, painted, sung or knit–peaceful protest is not just a right in the United States, but a responsibility that is essential to the preservation and defense of democracy and our shared American Dream.