I’d like to think that I’m as fierce a defender of the right to free speech as anyone could find, yet I’ve never really protested anything in the loud, public way the activist-minded often do. I’ve believe that, as a journalist, I can do more good as an individual by writing about the protest than I ever could by joining the mob and submitting to groupthink. Truthfully, I probably harbor some slight disdain for protests, what with the chanting and claptrap. Especially with protests promoting liberal causes, I find myself turned off by the atmosphere and secretly wanting to tell people to stop trying to net every aspect of liberal politics — peace on earth, civil rights, closing the gap between the rich and poor, protection for immigrants, a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, banning big business, banning oil, saving the trees, saving the whales and so forth — into one drawn out, garbled yell. And for God’s sake, leave your fucking bongo drums at home. Yet, when the time comes, I can silence these feelings and just report on the event as it happens, like it should.
Today I drove to UCSB to cover an anti-war protest. I imagined this event would be a slam-dunk — go, snag some quotes from the speakers, get a few color quotes from bystanders, head to the office to type it up. Instead, I found myself trailing behind a legitimately large group of students — downright massive by the standards of UCSB political activism — as they marched through campus, over the new roundabout at the east entrance and down Highway 217. And I mean directly down. The middle. The sides. In front of cars. They effectively shut down traffic in that sector of campus, at least while they remained there. I stood at the brink of mob, where they stopped near the exit of Sandspit Road at Goleta Beach, where they were met by a cluster of CHP dudes sporting riot gear. I watched them stand their ground and then I followed them back to campus, where they harangued the official-types in Cheadle Hall.
I don’t want to blow my objectivity here, and I honestly feel like I can suppress the impulse to opine one way or they other, but lying in bed now and looking back on what happened today, I can honestly say what happened — for good and for bad — left an impression on me. It wasn’t like other protests I’d seen before. Watching those kids walk and yell together reminded me that, no matter what the message, a group of people can find strength in unity. It was something. Something something. It was news and that’s why I was there, but somehow the events of today add up to a whole that I didn’t expect.
Having known myself for about twenty-four years now, I feel I can safely proclaim that I’m not going to be marching in protests any time soon. Nonetheless, I’m thinking what I did today more than I usually do on other days. And I’d imagine I’m not the only one.
my Flickr set on today's protest, as well as the article I wrote for Independent.com.