19 August 2014

One man's summer is another man's spring

You know things are messed up in Ferguson MO when even the Fox News reporters are questioning police tactics. Last night was the worst since Ferguson became the focus of the nation, and both sympathizers with the police and sympathizers with the young man slain by the police were quick to blame outside agitators. Groups like the Revolution Club of Chicago and the New Black Panther Party (that favorite of Fox), as well as white anarchists, are in town to cause trouble or, in their minds, to speed up a true uprising. A lot of people in Ferguson, residents included, are sick and tired. In other countries when a critical mass of people get sick and tired a government can fall and they call it a spring. There's far from a critical mass today in Ferguson, much less the United States, but you can wonder how different in spirit the protesters are from protesters in Tunisia, where a kid killing himself helped bring a government down, or in Egypt, where people got fed up twice over in three years' time, or in Ukraine, where one group of people got fed up with the government and overthrew it, and another group got fed up with the first and seceded. Americans like to cheer on spontaneous protests in other countries but distrust them on their own soil. That's understandable if you think your fellow citizens don't actually have serious complaints, but couldn't that have been what a passive majority thought in Tunisia, in Egypt, or in Ukraine? Maybe we imagine that we know what all these people stood for, but the one thing they have in common across their borders is that they felt oppressed. On our own soil, we're more critical of protests against oppression -- my own temptation just now was to write "alleged oppression." We don't give our own protesters as much benefit of the doubt as we do protesters against foreign regimes -- and it isn't even a matter of whether the country in question is an "enemy" of America. Egypt wasn't, but many of us rooted for the people in Tahrir Square, and some rooted both times, when a second wave of revolt overwhelmed the first. Sometimes who you're against makes a difference; America loved the Maidan in Kiev but hates the Russophone Ukrainians who rose in turn against it. I'm not going to suggest that the people in Ferguson are moral equivalents of any of these groups. All I ask is that Americans show a little of the same skepticism many show toward the Ferguson protesters toward mass protesters elsewhere in the world, before we make more commitments we regret. But if we think it is good to rebel everywhere else on Earth, perhaps we shouldn't dismiss so quickly or contemptuously those who feel a need to rebel at home.

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