Too Many Protests? … For the Right Causes?

by B.W. Durham

Headlines screamed: “Princeton protesters occupy president’s office, demanding that Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from campus buildings.”

That demonstration on November 18 by black and white students who stormed the Princeton University president’s office was only one the most recent of racial protests occurring across America.

But wait a minute – Are we protesting too much, too little, and are we protesting the right things?

Woodrow Wilson died in 1924. He had graduated from Princeton, was president of the university from 1902 to 1910 and served as New Jersey governor until elected the 28th President of the United States. In his day, Wilson’s achievements as U.S. President outweighed the fact that he was a segregationist.

The Princeton demonstrators refused to quit until their demands to improve experiences for black students on campus were met — starting with admitting Wilson’s “racist legacy” by removing his name from campus buildings, including The Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs.

University President Christopher Eisgruber, eager to please, signed an agreement with the Black Justice League to end the 32-hour sit-in and to examine Woodrow Wilson's legacy on matters of race.

Eisgruber said, "We appreciate the willingness of the students to work with us to find a way forward for them, for us and for our community." In an editorial a few days later, The New York Times supported the protestors’ demands and called Wilson “an unrepentant racist.”

Racism in all forms and manifestations, whether contemporary or historic, is the new battle cry of today’s generation of protestors, both black and white.

  • Last summer, with help from media that galvanized public opinion, protesters forced South Carolina to remove the confederate battle flag from the statehouse lawn forever.
  • In September, officials banned the confederate flag from city flagpoles in Lexington, Virginia – the town where both Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson are buried.
  • A month ago, racial protests at the University of Missouri, including by the football team, forced the resignations of Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and University President Tim Wolfe.  \
  • Last week, protesters tried to force the Roanoke, Virginia, City Council to forbid marchers in public parades to carry the confederate flag.

Seemingly every week since the debacle in the suburban city of Ferguson, Missouri last year, there is a public protest against police departments, local governmental authorities, schools and/or colleges alleged to practice racist policies.

Quite obviously a great deal of good can arise from peaceful protests, racial or otherwise.

Recall the Boston Tea Party of 1773? … Or the Women’s Suffrage Movement that led to a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote? … The labor protests in 1911 that generated stricter workplace-safety laws and safer factories? … The Civil Rights Movement prompting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965? …Public demonstrations that helped assure passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990?

In today’s America, again I ask: “Are we protesting too much, too little, and are we protesting the right things?”

Paul R. Krugman, a professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs until he became a professor at City University of New York, wrote in his New York Times column last month that global warming is a more imminent threat than ISIS.

Global warming concerns many people. Yet I am far more concerned about the lack of public protests against terrorist advances by ISIS, and the obvious failure of our government to control the spread of that terrorism.

The shootings on December 2 in San Bernardino, California, by a husband and wife team who killed 14 people and injured 21 was the result of a jihadist terrorist act.

Last year, the man who beheaded a woman in Oklahoma with a kitchen knife was identified as a jihadist sympathizer who had been trying to convert co-workers to Islam. But President Obama called it “workplace violence.”

How many beheadings, mass shootings and explosions in America (remember the Boston Marathon?) must occur for more people, including student activists, to rise up in protest against terrorism?

And where were the national media when, on December 7, a few hundred Shiite Muslims staged an anti-terrorism rally in Washington, D.C.?  Only a few onlookers joined the peaceful protest.  Some American Muslims have conducted protests against the Islamic State since the killings in San Bernardino, California, yet many American Muslims fear being targeted for violence by Islamic extremists.

And why don’t more people protest Iran’s continuing tests of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that are clearly in breach of United Nations resolutions? A medium-range, ballistic missile like those in Iran can carry a nuclear payload more than 1,800 miles – far enough to strike many Middle Eastern cities.

Radical Islamic terror and nuclear missiles are real, legitimate threats. Yet apparently they lack the cachet of causes that generated huge protests years ago.

In the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of people converged on Washington, D.C., to protest the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands protested against racial inequality, and hundreds of thousands demonstrated to support women’s rights.

When Peter, Paul & Mary and Bob Dylan performed at the March on Washington in 1963, more than 300,000 people there heard them sing. Where are those numbers today?

The outspoken self-proclaimed racist Cornel West, formerly a professor at Princeton who now teaches philosophy at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, defines the United States as a “racist patriarchal nation” where white supremacy defines every day.

I propose that Professor West set aside his racism and hatred of white people long enough to protest terrorist acts in Boston, Fort Hood, Texas, New York City, San Bernardino and elsewhere in the U.S. by terrorists that sympathize with the Islamic State. Soon after the mass killings in Paris on November 13, ISIS announced that New York City will be the next target for violent terrorism. Where does the racist professor West stand on that?

Woodrow Wilson was president of Princeton University and the nation…he conceived "The League of Nations” to promote global democracy and world peace…he led the country through World War I… he endorsed the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote…he won the Nobel Peace Prize…he was responsible for reinstating the “State of the Union” address…he signed the Jones Act enabling U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans … and, yes, he was a segregationist.

When The New York Times published its recent editorial supporting the Princeton protesters’ cause, many readers wrote letters to the editor that disagreed with the newspaper’s point of view.

One of those letters read:

“While President Wilson’s racist beliefs and segregationist policies are no doubt a serious blight on his presidency, they need to be…balanced by the progressive measures that were implemented during his terms, as well as his nomination of Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court, surely one of the most progressive jurists this country has ever seen.

“Your editorial didn’t acknowledge the federal statutes Wilson was responsible for…such as those bringing about an eight-hour workday for railroad workers, child labor laws, a stable banking system (Federal Reserve Act) and the Federal Trade Commission. These policies continue to benefit all Americans regardless of skin color.

“A leader should be measured in the context of the times that he lived in, not by how he should have lived based on today’s standards…Wilson was, in many ways, ahead of his time. For this reason, Princeton should keep the name of its public policy school just the way it is.”

The man who wrote that letter is named Henry Pomerantz. And I totally agree with him.

When Peter, Paul & Mary and Bob Dylan performed at
the March on Washington in 1963, more than 300,000 people there heard them sing. Where are those numbers today?

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