In case you spent the past few days in a self-imposed media exile, I need to inform you that there was a little protest rally in and around Capitol Square in Richmond, VA on Monday. The Chicago Tribune, in a story subtly slanted against the protesters, estimated the crowd at about 22,000. Other sources placed the numbers higher. The protesters gathered in defense of their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, and to protest three new gun control bills currently before the Virginia Legislature. All three are expected to pass, and to be signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.
Prior to the event, and claiming that there were “credible threats” of violence, Gov. Northam declared a state of emergency, making Capitol Square a gun-free zone. The area was surrounded by temporary fencing, and protesters wishing to enter were required to pass through a metal detector and submit to a search. All of the press coverage I have seen on the rally, which, by the way, was part of an annual lobbying day that pro-Second Amendment groups have been doing for years in Virginia, said that the event passed with no violence and no injuries. As many predicted, the media tended to attribute the lack of violence to the Governor’s preemptive actions rather than to any sense of self-restraint on the part of the protesters.
Not only was there no violence, but the protesters, according to several reports, cleaned up after themselves and took out their own trash. The cynical might contrast this to the mess often left in the wake of left-wing protests.
Monday, of course, was also Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, the day set aside to remember the life and works of the great civil rights leader slain in 1968. I don’t know whether the decision to hold the rally and lobbying day on the King holiday was deliberate or coincidental. I suppose the fact that many people would have been off work that day might have played a part in the scheduling, but I very much doubt that the coincidence was in any way intended as a statement.
But that didn’t prevent many on the political left from drawing conclusions, or from attempting to characterize the rally as “white supremacist” or “racist.” And several reports were quick to point out that there was favorable mention of the incumbent President by some speakers, despite the fact that he has a far from clear record of support for Second Amendment rights.
Some went so far as to claim that this rally was an insult to Dr. King’s memory. This I deny, categorically.
Protest is a venerable American tradition, that traces back at least as far as a group of Massachusetts men throwing tea into Boston Harbor. We’ve marched and rallied to protest slavery, when that was a thing prior to the Civil War. We’ve protested alcoholic beverages and then, after they were banned in 1920, we’ve protested the ban. We’ve protested women being denied the vote. We’ve protested racial injustice, and while the leadership was quite properly African-American, many people of good conscience and European ancestry joined in. We’ve protested war, at least sporadically, and the heyday of these protests in the late 1960s and early ’70s is often credited with ending American involvement in one long-lasting conflict. We’ve protested the denial of basic rights to people on the basis of their sexual preference or identity. We’ve protested the banning of a naturally-growing plant and of other drugs. We’ve protested high taxes – sometimes any taxes. This is a perennial top-forty hit. And this list is not definitive.
We’ve protested gun violence. And we’ve protested attempts to restrict the right to keep and bear arms.
I see a unity, a continuity, in all of these protests.
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Three guesses who said that.1
In my view, protest is not just a right. Protest, when one perceives injustice, is a positive duty. “Silence signifies assent.”
The proper role of government (stipulating that it has one at all) is to protect the rights of the individual. It is not to become his or her master. When government intrudes upon those rights, whether by abridging or obstructing the citizen’s right to vote, to defend oneself against aggression by other individuals or by the government itself, or in any other way, it is the right and the duty of the person of conscience to say something. To protest!
Human rights are indivisible. No one of them is more important than another, although changing circumstances may make it more urgent to give attention to one rather than another. Securing the right to protect oneself is as vital as securing the right to vote.
So whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not, Dr. King and the other protesters on that march from Selma to Montgomery have a lot in common with those people rallying in Richmond yesterday. They see something wrong. And they say something.
1Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of course!