Peaceful protest is an integral part of our democracy

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

Two weeks ago, more than 20,000 men, women and children spilled into the streets of Santa Ana in solidarity, a signal that when our neighbors are threatened because of their sex, race or creed, they are not alone.

It was the single biggest civic action in Orange County’s history — a beautiful statement that our community cares enough for each other to spend time standing together in support of our freedoms, in support of an inclusive and tolerant democracy.

Yet just as we witnessed in past displays of solidarity — for example during the civil rights movement, or when suffragettes fought for the right to vote — voices quickly emerged to criticize and minimize the significance of these actions and marginalize those standing up.

Critics called the marches undemocratic and attempted to malign the organizers. In a bizarre column dripping with sexist imagery, Ron Hart, a contributing writer to the Register, called those of us who participated “weirdos ... out protesting nothingness.”

If that were true, then the principles of justice and equality upon which our great nation was founded were all built on the backs of weirdos — weirdos who had the courage to stand up for the right of all Americans to vote and to be treated equally.

What’s more, even with laws in our cities, state and country that prohibit discrimination based on sex, race or creed, we know from our own experiences and from what’s playing out nationally today that those laws haven’t eliminated sexism or racism, bigotry or intolerance.

It’s people standing together and speaking out that advance a culture where hateful actions and ideas are no longer welcome.

This is the principle that has motivated generations of workers standing together in their unions. For example, there’s no one rule or one law or one political leader who protects women from harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Rather, it’s working people standing together, in unity, demanding fairness that reject a workplace culture where women are treated as second-class citizens.

Our nation was formed based on a set of ideals — that we all have a right to pursue happiness, to be free, to be liberated from servitude. Our Constitution doesn’t claim to create a perfect union, but it demands that we the people aspire to establish a more perfect union.

When policies are introduced and ideas are promoted that threaten those principles, it’s our obligation as citizens to stand up and use our strength in numbers to fight back.

Peaceful protest is an integral part of that pursuit of a more perfect union. It’s one of the most patriotic actions we can take. And those who criticize us for engaging in such action are simply exposing their own preference for an undemocratic form of government overseen by demagogues.

Wherever you land on the political spectrum, because you live in America you know that if you believe your rights are being impinged, or your elected leaders are acting irresponsibly, you have the right to join with others to fight back. And if that right is threatened, you have the right to peacefully escalate your protest.

It’s that knowledge that leads to more action — to neighbors taking a greater role in the halls of local government, in schools and in their own lives. If you think that’s being a weirdo, then you don’t understand this country at all.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: February 3, 2017