In the wake of our national tragedy two weeks ago, we have witnessed the coming together of citizens, nations and religions. Americans have rallied around the government and have collectively mourned the dead in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Our generation is living at a level of American unity unfathomable just 15 days ago. People everywhere are banding together in defense of the nation and the American way of life. Here in Madison, however, our greatest local sages are working hard to strike back.
Ahhh, Madison. While rescuers slowly remove the rubble from the site of the greatest carnage ever visited upon American soil, our local heroes seem to be working overtime to replace it with their own pile of rhetorical garbage. Last week, while the nation and all of us “unenlightened” residents of this fair city mourned, our self-proclaimed leaders flew into action.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, head of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, described the attack as the “ultimate faith-based initiative.” Campus administrators cancelled classes long enough only to assemble and preach their personal repulsion to the thought of retaliation, and last Thursday fellow students assembled in Library Mall to voice their disappointment in us, the “ignorant” 90 percent or so of the country that they look down upon and disagree with.
I grew up in this town, and was pretty sure I had grown numb to how absurd this city can be. Last week’s rally proved me wrong. On Library Mall was gathered a brood of perpetually offended students, full-time activists, and aging hipsters, banging on drums and cheering to the sound of each other’s voices.
Their words were similar to what they always are, but the context in which they spoke made the message all the more distasteful. For as long as I could bear it, I stood, listened and cringed. I was reminded that America was “founded on racism,” and that those of us who demand a response to the attack perpetrated on our country are racists.
I learned that democracy was being undermined, and I listened as the crowd cheered Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., the sole dissenter in Congress’ 420-1 resolution vote in support of the President. I heard how these protesters were nothing short of sorrowful because so much of their campus wasn’t educated enough to understand just how right they are, how wrong we are, and how much empathy they have for us, the great war-mongering masses.
While I may betray my own feelings about the validity of their argument, the point of this column is not to say the protesters are wrong. Rather, it is to point out that the way they have chosen to deliver their message will serve only to hurt people. Their seeming inability to understand, or even to care about, the feelings of the majority is reckless, hypocritical and grossly insensitive.
Where these protesters went off-track, I don’t know. In this nation we are now uniting to defend; they have every right to question our elected officials, our economic regimes, and all of us. And, truth be told, they are not saying anything new.
But what is disturbing about their actions is the timing and the bizarre contradictions within their claims. They choose to lob their self-ingratiating verbal bombs while our wounds are still fresh, yet they would deny us the same right to disagree respectfully that we are now fighting to preserve. If you agree with them, they’ll pass you the megaphone. If you disagree, they will call you ignorant, uneducated and racist.
In their rush to monopolize righteousness, these protesters seem to have forgotten their own much-trumpeted values of democracy (which, I am sorry to remind them, are founded in majority rule), empathy and open-mindedness. As the protesters’ blather echoed off of the cement of Library Mall, I realized that they must also have forgotten their fellow students who couldn’t help but hear their derision as they tried to get to class.
Somehow I wish we weren’t too busy working, grieving and living to respond to this garbage. It seems that once again a very vocal and very small minority will define our campus and our city, while those of us who dissent on this island surrounded by reality will remain quiet.
Perhaps this is for the best. As defeatist as that may sound, perhaps we should abandon any effort at debate, since it seems to fall on such obstinate ears. Perhaps this town and its loudest leading citizens should just be left alone to bang their drums, preach to their choir through a bullhorn, and accuse the rest of us of racism while we grieve and debate what should actually be done.
Joe Alexander is a senior majoring in business and political science