Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Is Protest Always Negative?

I ask this question specifically because I'm talking to people about whether or not protests about Dick Cheney being invited to give the commencement at BYU would be appropriate, helpful, and good. But I'm really surprised by some of the viewpoints I'm discovering. I was concerned about a Cheney protest for two reasons: (1) would it be disrespectful of the BYU Board of Directors? (specifically the members of the First Presidency that issued the invite) and (2) would it be disrespectful of the students graduating? (you have to be fair about this one . . . maybe you didn't go to your graduation, but for a lot of families this capstone commencement thing is a big, happy, important deal – and obviously the students had no say in this last minute controversial speaker brouhaha).

After lots of thought and discussion, I've decided that for (1) "No. They simply graciously accepted an offer by a sitting Vice President of the United States. There was no announcement of a new revelation that exercising our constitutional rights to disagree with our political leaders is now bad or wrong. Quite the contrary, if you look at the past few First Presidency proclamations on what we should be doing politically. So I think – as long as you're not tying the First Presidency to Cheney's politics on your protest placard and/or trying to bodily tackle the man in the middle of his speech –there are a number of ways you could 'protest' and still be on the side of right." Number (2) [respecting the graduation ceremony and students themselves], however, troubles me a little more and so I'm hoping that any physical protests the days of graduation are off campus . . . somewhere in the "miles between the airport and the Marriot Center" suggested by the Daily Universe editorial board. I like the old BYU campus at the Provo Library so far.

But man, what a hornets nest the expression"protest" is! My gut concerns were just the tip of the iceberg. On one listserve I've been checking out, you've got people that believe "protest" is always intended to "silence" a viewpoint that is disagreeable (and, therefore, really bad on a college campus). I've also seen the argument [quite eloquently presented] that protests are always negative and never do anything but reinforce stereotypes on both sides. Then you've got the people that think "protests" are just rude, boorish, and disrespectful spectacles for the vain self-important publicity seekers of the world.

I always kinda respected protesters. Even the ones I have to deal with at General Conference and the Hill Cumorah Pageant, etc. On my mission we did "streetboarding" at parks sometimes. And although I really feel we were more polite than a lot of "protesters" I've dealt with at the places I mentioned, I've always figured the gumption and motivation were simliar and I oughtta try to respect that.

But beyond that, I always thought some of the most important changes in our recent American history occurred because of "protesters". Wasn't the whole civil rights movement which helped break down our racist laws and attitudes fueled by protests? Or was that mostly "marches" and "demonstrations" and are those different somehow than traditional "protests"? If they are, should we start using those terms?

Is it just the protest of war that is ineffective? Is it just protest in Utah County that is ineffective?

I don't want to do anything that causes more harm than good. I do want to get a message across to many people I know who might just take Cheney's invitation as tacit (or even overt) approval of everything he politically stands for that there are other valid and fair ways to see this invitation. Like perhaps the Board of Directors were just being polite and gracious in receiving the sitting Vice President of the United States of America. That is, in fact, the claim. I think it is dishonorable to take that claim at less than face value. And if that is the case, then all those whose only problem with expressing dissenting opinions about Cheney's policies is that they believe the First Presidency approves of them . . . what possible basis could they have for that?

I am stunned by how little discussion of who Richard Cheney is and what he stands for has taken place on this campus before the invitation. There are a lot of people that are like "Whoa, why would it be so bad for any United States VP to come to BYU? What's the deal?" I find it incredibly positive that because "protests" are being planned there is a lot of discussion and research going on. So planning the protests, I think, is doing a world of good.

But is actually carrying through with them going to be bad? . . . What if a peaceful and informative rally were held on the old BYU campus – the Provo Library – that didn't mess up graduation? Is there another, totally different way to get the message out and not have negative effects on the graduation ceremonies and / or reinforce negative stereotypes? What do you guys think?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Cheney to Deliver Commencement Address?

Whether or not God grants the prayers of those praying for a "scheduling conflict" in the invitation of Dick Cheney to speak at BYU I see only good coming from this turn of events.

It reminds me of a story from my early college days (at BYU). A bunch of us guys were watching a late-night comedy show on broadcast television. The show had some crude material, but in all honesty we didn't think much of it. A couple of us had our girlfriends come by. Suddenly it seemed each act was raunchier than the last. It was a little bit uncomfortable. The next day we were talking about it and concluded that quite possibly the show was always like that but we'd just overlooked it because it was, indeed, pretty funny.

I think a lot of Republican members of the LDS Church tolerate a great deal of corruption, deception, etc. in the Republican party. I think they do so because the national platform does, indeed, include much that is family-friendly, good, and wholesome. But having Dick Cheney contrasted in such sharp relief against the backdrop of our LDS beliefs and the mission statement of BYU could be a godsend (perhaps in the literal sense!) for a lot of people.

I do fear there will be lots of partisan bashing and many people that just refuse to look at the man or his message honestly. But I am sure there will also be quite a number that finally see blind partisanship and loyalty to the Republican party (or any party hopefully) to be actually inconsistent with their beliefs and morals.

In my opinion, Dick Cheney is not an inspiring man . . . at least not in the ways I hope BYU would want to inspire its grads. He is the partisan politician's politician. You want Dick Cheney in your corner when you are in the heat of a partisan battle with no holds barred. He's a tenacious bulldog. He is a one-note instrument that the Republican partisan extremists are happy to have in their tool chest. He is not a great leader of men or a builder of understanding. He is a savvy strategist with amoral predilections.

Sometimes the partisan apologists will cry foul when his military deferalls are dredged up from his murky past. I take exception with this. I just don't see how you can make too much of the fact that FIVE times the man purposefully dodged military service and yet here he is, poster boy for 'military solutions' that involve sending young men and women off to kill and die. Five times!

Vice President Cheney represents all that is wrong with our current foreign policy. Vice President Cheney represents all that is wrong with the revolving door in the military industrial complex. Vice President Cheney represents all that is wrong with partisan politics in the US today.

I can think of a very short list of speakers that I think would be more inappropriate for a BYU commencement. But I can't think of a one whose visit I think might do more good.

Does this mean I'll stop praying for the scheduling conflict and a graceful defusion of the contention? No, of course not. But like all my prayers, I'm willing to work with God's answer either way (I'll admit to being partisan when it comes to God). It's just this time I can already see hope no matter which direction this event goes.