By: Tahira Ansari
If one looks at the beginnings of dissent in America it is easy to see that a long list of protest groups have opposed the government and its policies since the birth of the nation. Its roots in the new land go back to the time when the original colonists banded together to protest and ultimately break free of the British Empire and establish the United States of America. In a nutshell, they rejected the authority of the parliament of Great Britain to rule without giving them the right to represent themselves. At first the British gave the colonists a lot of free reign to do as they pleased. But as time went on, the British tightened its control on the pioneer’s lives and began imposing more and higher taxes. It wasn’t long before the colonists reached their limit and began to object. They responded with rebellion and expelled the British officials and established their own congress. In response, the British came to back wage an even bigger battle in an effort to maintain their direct rule. The more the British attacked and showed their true face of tyranny the more they fueled the opposition. Hence the American Revolution was born. When all was said and done the Americans were victorious and the British gave up their claim to the colonies.
All revolutions bring about change and this was no exception. The newly formed confederation rejected the type of oligarchies and aristocratic rule they had seen all across Europe. In its place they set a new idealistic system based on a representative government that would be quick to respond to the wishes of the people. The new government went from being a loosely formed union to a more united and clearly defined central government with articles of confederation and a constitution that guaranteed individual rights. Much of what was written in the early Bill of Rights read like a reaction to the revolution they had just fought. The bill justified the revolution and strongly protected everyone’s individual rights and freedom. They were determined not to let anyone do to them again what Britain had done to them. It was a noble and optimistic effort to keep federal government from interfering with individual rights. At the same time other factions supporting a stronger federal government feared chaos and mob rule in those tumultuous times so they stood up to support more government regulation and control. The scene had been set and America was fertile soil for every kind of protest imaginable against its own government.
The seeds of dissent had been sewn and political, social and environmental activists developed a multitude of ways to express their discontent with whatever issues they were unhappy with. For example, today’s labor movement that began in the early 1900’s is still going strong today. It has historically used negotiations and strikes to pressure the powers that be to be provide better wages and working conditions. Early on it was headed up primarily by immigrants seeking what they came to America for – the chance to make better lives for themselves and their families. As times changed they adapted their methods to deal more effectively with the system they were working in. Their solidarity grew and they became a very powerful force to be dealt with.
A little later in the 1900’s civil rights groups followed by women’s suffrage groups protested the government - each in their own distinctive style. Protesting racial inequities and unfair treatment of women these movements used sit-ins, picketing, and marches as means of letting the government and the general public know that they were not going to take unequal or unfair treatment from anyone any more. Not far behind these movements were the peace and anti-war demonstrators who came into full bloom around the time of the Vietnam war. Their protests were for the most part peaceful. They held peace marches, sat in at federal buildings and even reportedly went to Iraq to use themselves as human shields in an attempt to stop the government from starting a war there. Tax protesters were a part of the early battle with the British and are still going strong today. Some groups protest the amount of taxes while others say that collecting taxes is not even a legitimate part of the government’s rights.
One could write an entire book on all the protest groups and their movements that have sprung up in American society. Their size, level of sophistication and specific causes vary widely. The details may be different but the goal is always the same – to make an unresponsive government respond to the people it is supposed to be serving – a never ending tug of war.
Americans have a way of standing up for what they see as a just cause and are not ready to sit down until they have done everything in their power to put into effect what they view as positive change. Many have even put their lives on the line to support a good cause. So many positive changes throughout history have come about from these principled and brave citizens. They feel certain that protesting the government or any business that is engaging in unfair practices is not only a right provided by the constitution but a responsibility that must be acted upon.
In the past ten years government corruption seems to have peaked, the economy continues to fail and people find themselves out of work, losing their homes and suffering without health care. Fueled by the ineffective response of the government, the citizens are becoming angry and hostile towards the administration in ways that have not been seen since the early days of the colonists. They are reacting to leadership with increased demands, violence and even threats of government takeovers.
Just in the last few years there has been a revival of the Boston Tea Party that took place when the early colonists protested the British policy of unfair taxation – shortly before they started a full-fledged overthrow of British rule. Recent protests were held all over America with signs on every street corner inviting people to come to a Tea Party – ‘TEA’ standing for ‘Taxed Enough Already’. One resident thought it was a public social gathering where tea and sweets would be served but came to find that it was not a gala event but was actually a rally protesting high taxes and the misspending of taxpayer’s money.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing resurgences both to the government and many of its citizens is that of what has become known as the ‘militia’ and self- proclaimed ‘patriot’ groups. These assemblies are highly distinct and focus on various causes and subscribe to varying degrees of militancy. In general they stand on the premise that the powers that be have gotten too big and are exercising too much control over the private lives of citizens. Their focus is often on such issues as the right to bear arms, taxation and opposing immigration. In their furthest extremes they are invested in preserving ‘white’ America and often accused of fostering different types of hate groups. They were generally known to be tolerant of the Bush administration. Now they have the reputation of being highly opposed to the election of Obama based in part on his liberal approach to government and the issue of race.
One report states that these groups have increased 54 percent in the past decade alone. Facts can often be misreported but these groups have a reputation for being armed and angry with a history of violent attacks. One of them was reportedly the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building. More recently a private citizen fed up with the Internal Revenue Service for issues with tax policies wrote a suicide note and flew a small plane into an IRS building. He was praised by many citizens and reportedly hailed as a hero by many citizens and patriot groups. Whether acting on their own or as part of a group, their issues of protest are all similar. Although many of the people supporting these causes are often seen as “fringe” groups, surprisingly enough reports say that there seems to be an upsurge of more middle of the road citizens banding together under the same banner supporting the same issues but in less extreme ways.
Americans are a generally a very positive group of people. But they are also realistic. Everywhere one goes people are fed-up with the failing economy, all of its side effects and they are disgruntled with a government they feel is all too often causing the problems instead of fixing them. It happened before and history is known to repeat itself. Americans all over are demanding change and hoping it comes sooner than later and peacefully rather than forcefully.
© Islam Times