School Lessons from the RNC Protests

Sep 12, 2012 by

By Mary Grabar –

Young protestors complained and smirked about the number of police surrounding their puny demonstrations at the Republican National Convention.  Yet, protestors were the ones who hyped up the threats, sending out posts about upcoming “actions.”  On the last day they did try to muster a show, but the whole thing came off as a temper tantrum amidst a police force that allowed them enough leeway so they wouldn’t hurt themselves.  They went out with a whimper on their last protest march.  Youths with bandanas around their faces did an Occupy Wall Street call-and-response saying, “we are not the greatest country in the world,” and then led a chant: “People unite, this is a global fight,” demanding open borders.

I had spent three days with my friend Tina Trent wandering around foul-smelling campsites and following motley throngs chanting out inchoate slogans and blowing on pathetic-sounding plastic horns.  While we were keeping an eye on the protests planned for the screening of the movie Occupy Unmasked, Earth First and others quietly boarded buses out of town and descended on a TECO power plant in Apollo Beach, some 20 miles from the convention site, to blockade the facility.

“I suspect the protestors coordinated the TECO invasion with the movie premiere, so those of us keeping tabs on them would be preoccupied,” said Tina.  “Here we were, watching Code Pink leader Medea Benjamin rant at the movie director at the movie premiere, while all the other protestors chose that very moment to swarm the largest power plant in the proximity of the convention.”

Tina, who lives in the area and blogs on crime, has been keeping tabs on the protestors’ plans.  She wonders why the TECO invaders were not jailed.  The Code Pink women (about 10 of them altogether) were a constant and highly visible presence at the protests.  Two of them disrupted vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s speech.  Another disrupted Mitt Romney’s speech.  She asks, “Why did they keep getting released by the Secret Service and keep finding their way back in to disrupt things again?”  In her blog posts Tina noted that planning for the protests was conducted at a local public university and that local taxpayers were footing a $57,000 bill for the rental of property for the protestors, who had no intention of abiding by the rules their lawyers hammered out with City Council and the Mayor in advance of the RNC.  “Shame on our elected officials for wasting our time and money negotiating with a bunch of dangerous, lying radicals,” she says.

Officials and police, I might add, acted like they were dealing with two-year-olds.

That’s the way the protestors were acting by stomping around, shouting, making noise, and using a very limited vocabulary.  This comes, I believe, from being fed a steady diet of emotion-based lessons about the glories of “direct action”  Students are taught in lessons produced by taxpayer-supported PBS that the Black Panthers were a legitimate civil rights group during the halcyon days of the 1960s.  At the 2011 annual meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, I listened to English high school teachers and college professors give presentations on incorporating the “rhetoric of protest” into classroom lessons.  Slogans shouted out or displayed on signs were to be analyzed in papers and group presentations!

The lessons about the RNC protests will likely reflect the lessons school children are already being taught about OWS.  Now, a few days after the RNC, the Nation magazine is sending teachers free teaching guides for the latest issue of the magazine

that features a story about the “Greedy Old Party.”  The student hand-out presents such leading “reading comprehension” questions as “Why is it important that the Affordable Care Act is being interpreted to outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity, not just on the basis of sex?”  For “fact-checking,” they direct students to the George Soros-supported Institute for Policy Studies.

Those covering the protests at the RNC came from all over the world.  Many of them are outlets funded by George Soros.  Ironically, Soros is funding the Occupy protests that they are covering.  Will students ever learn that?  It is doubtful.  Nor will they learn about the real nature of the protests or about legitimate political discourse.

I know from seeing OWS in Atlanta in October and the RNC protests in August that in terms of legitimate political protest this is much ado about nothing.  It’s an attempt by those raised on the romanticized lessons of “direct action” to capture the feeling of “changing the world.”

As I watched the young people in Tampa I felt sad; they seemed desperate to recapture some kind of moral purpose and community feeling.  They repeated refrains from the 1960s, shouting on the last night, “one, two, three, four, this is a f*&!ing class war.”  As the video shows, this was a very confused group, not only in terms of political objectives, but in the direction they were marching.

ConservARTive’s raw videos show that the rhetoric did not go beyond childish name-calling, displayed on signs repeating the tired refrain about the 1%.  The reality is opposite what the media presented.  I observed a reporter for Gannett-owned WTSP, Channel 10 in Tampa, actually coach a Black Bloc protestor, to make the young man sound intelligent and nonviolent.  What was more appropriate was to ask a protestor carrying a sign with the word “stupid” written on Mitt Romney’s forehead what she meant by “stupid,” as the reporter at ConservARTive did. The lack of legitimacy becomes apparent as soon as you take them at their word.  But we know which media reports will make their way into classroom lessons.

But if you have teachers using protest placards and shouts from a bullhorn as examples of “rhetoric,” and if all you know about civics is that “direct action” is the highest form of reform, then you will not understand that carrying a cut-out of Mitt Romney with the word “stupid” on his forehead is actually evidence of your own stupidity.  And when the elders of the protest movement, like Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, are heralded and unpunished, we are setting a bad example for young people.  We also say that interfering with the political process will go unpunished.

So to add to Tina’s point, I wonder if we are doing these young people a favor by not making them face the consequences. But then again, if this is what they are being taught in schools, can we blame them entirely?

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