Sometimes I wonder what America our military members are fighting for. I thought it was the one where we value the rights provided to us by the Constitution, such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. But then we have incidents like this.
Over the past few years, the Women in Black and Veterans for Peace have grown in our little town, as they have around the world, protesting the war in Iraq. Last I looked, we were allowed to do that– assemble peacefully and express our opinions. I personally know a number of the women of our local Women in Black group, which includes the minister of my church as well as several local women in the social forefront of institutional and educational agencies. They gathered, at first in the public square downtown, to bear silent witness, signs and solidarity for those who want to bring the troops home and end the war. They can’t meet there any more. The pro-war people harass, film and taunt them and make their vigils miserable. In the You Tube clips I’ve seen, where they accuse our local Women in Black of practicing witchcraft among other things, the taunters send their children to verbally assault the protesters. They aren’t even brave enough to do it themselves. And the police won’t do anything about it.
This, they’ll do something about. They charged an 82-year-old woman for allegedly kicking a veteran in his padded behind after he supposedly cursed her for stating her opinion. Yep, this is the America we have now.
(I’m even going to withhold comment on the kind of Iraq veteran who would whine about being “beat up” by an 82-year-old woman. For shame.) (Okay, withhold most of my comment.)
I know Ann DeWalt. We were cast together in the community theatre’s production of Steel Magnolias, myself as Ouiser and Ann as Clairee, and we spent months together. She is a fine lady in every sense of the word. Her sense of humor is sharp as her wit, and she certainly has many weapons at her disposal to fend off the usual sort of mockers. Clearly this went above and beyond.
There is no reason those protesting the war and those supporting the war can’t peacefully express their opinions. There is no reason those protesting the war have to be hounded by those determined to silence them, forced to continue moving the location of their protest to avoid being harassed. It’s in the Constitution, people. Everyone gets their chance to speak. None of us has the right to shut down opposing opinion. Not as far as I read the document.
Ann is hanging in there, bless her. As Clairee said so many nights, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
It makes me sad. This isn’t the America I learned about when I grew up, the country we’re supposed to be so proud of. I’ll go back to Ouiser for my final word: “This is it, I’ve found it, I’m in hell.”
Footnote, 3/25: outcome of hearing, Ann’s found guilty, pays $25 for the privilege.