TALLAHASSEE, Fla., May 17, 2015 – America is transforming. We experience life vicariously through TV and the internet. We don’t go to protests or even go to the battlefield. We we reach for the mouse.
That is one of the many shortcomings of experiencing our world vicariously through the internet.
You weren’t standing there, sweating in the middle of a crowd of like-minded people. You didn’t smell the lighting of the match or see the flutter of the red, white and blue.
You didn’t experience it at all. What you saw was an image, a crowd of people surging toward a target, a pitiful-looking opinionated man who was about to commit an act that you and other Americans abhor from the tip of your toes to the errant hair at the top of your head.
“Don’t let him do it,” you think.
“How do I stop him?” says your action mind.
The crowd surges, seeming on the verge of beating the crap out of someone they have never met and won’t be listening to anytime soon.
“A crowd mentality,” say the spin doctors and self-appointed experts. They look good on camera, and that’s what counts. Their opinion is to be cherished and trusted, never mind their credentials. They are on camera to look good on a 24/7 loop and to opine from a script.
“I think the Supreme Court said burning the flag was OK,” says another, flashing her flawless white teeth, comfortable in her role as the token liberal on the panel.
Still, the crowd surges toward the little man, clearly considering his options. His instincts have taken over by this time of the soundbite, and the fight or flight hormones are kicking in big time.
Constitutional or not, these people, this pack of LSU students, were intent on doing something, no matter what the Supreme decided he was allowed to do. At that moment in time, real people don’t retreat to law books for guidance. They resort to what feels right at the time.
“Go to hell, hippie!”
“USA!” They chant in unison, outnumbering the cause of their ire by 300 to 1. The police were there, not to quell the rebellion, but to prevent harm to the source of it. We have changed as a nation, and with none of our young men being drafted into service on behalf of our country and no prospect of widespread war looming on the horizon, the United States is a safe haven for the youth of America.
The question of appropriate behavior is not usually determined by one individual, as the would-be flag-burner soon realized. He had announced his plans long before the flag-burning, contacting the press through the ACLU and other groups who like to like to test the limits of our rights as Americans. Nazis and KKK are free to assemble. So are Communists and flag-burners.
This day, however, he was in a distinct minority.
When the crowd surged, his supporters, all five of them, headed for the hills. The tattooed girl holding the flag in her backpack remained, defiant. In Louisiana, there was gonna be a whuppin’ and he was left alone, staring into the eyes of hundreds of students who disagreed with his opinions about America and his take on life. The police had been warned that there might be trouble. They wore riot gear and rode horses, keeping the crowd at bay. If necessary, their plan was to whisk that little man out of the center of the crowd for his own safety.
One aspect of the uprising stood out from the typical flag-burning. Many of these students wore backpacks. The protester didn’t realize until too late that those backpacks held more than books. They contained the American practical solution for expressing their civil unrest.
“This is not how it went in the ‘60s,” said a veteran of the undeclared war in Vietnam. “ We would have had more people, and the cops on horses would have been there to keep us from trashing everything, but we would have been the burners and not the burnees. I feel good about that. I’m proud to be an American.” He turned and returned to his campus office, where he held the title of administrator. His fire-in-the- belly civil disobedience had become civil, and his passion for supporting “The Establishment” had retreated along with his hair.
Today’s college students are about as likely to be shot by the National Guard as Bigfoot is to be arrested robbing a 7-11. The days of Kent State, where the death of students at the command of the governor of Ohio spurned national protests and a few top-10 singles on the pop charts, are gone.
The youth of America are patriotic. We are enveloped in a time where long-hair has given way to short, protests are predominantly in support of the American way, and peacetime will usher in a new way of going to war; there are no boots on the ground. We conquer our enemies with drones and satellites wherever we find them. At least we can thank our kids for their obsession with video games. They will be the soldiers of the future.
Courts are not well-equipped to deal with the constitutionality of water balloons. They are better suited to rule upon whether burning our flag is protected as free speech. There will probably never be a lawsuit filed over water balloons used to stifle free expression.
It is an American device to resolve a problem, and we should applaud the ingenuity of students who avoided violence in expressing their own opinions.