I don't come from money, but through the great fortune of decent grades and an excellent need-based scholarship, I was able to attend a fancy-shmancy liberal arts college. It was there that I first heard words like "safe space" or "gender neutral" or "my parents own a vineyard in Northern California."
It was also there that, due to the vastly detested efforts of the few republican students on campus, I first saw Karl Rove give a live presentation. It was a mildly protested affair (as is every event at a liberal arts institution), but it the end, people piled into the college's largest venue to see George Bush's Senior Advisor speak his mind.
The student body behaved exactly the way one might expect a group of liberally educated teenagers (or any teenagers, really) to react to Karl Rove. Some booed, others shouted, and many children of wealthy white liberals scoffed and sneered at the words of a wealthy white conservative. Midway through the event, some kid stormed towards the stage while shouting, "Karl Rove is a war criminal, and this is a citizens arrest!" Security quickly escorted the disruptive student out of the building, though I have no doubt he later got head from a white girl with dreadlocks who too easily confused indignance for bravery.
The worst of it, though, happened at the beginning of the presentation. As Karl Rove's name was announced and he took to the stage, a group of predominately white students towards the back of the room stood up and turned their backs to him in a display of their distaste for his politics. That alone would've been fine, but one of the standing protesters had been seated in front of a group of elderly white men, at least one of whom had served in the military and was a fan of Karl Rove.
"Sit down!" shouted the veteran.
The college kid said nothing, and he didn't budge.
"I can't see. Please sit down!"
The student stood wordlessly.
"I'm a veteran!" yelled the old man. "I fought for this country! Sit down!"
"I'm sorry," was all the white boy said as he continued standing, defiantly self-righteous in the face of a man who'd seen war—a veteran who, somewhat ironically, had fought for that student's right to be an asshole.
I've been reflecting on that exchange since election night. So many people are curious as to how this country became so divided, and I keep remembering how an elderly veteran sat with his view obstructed by some kid with soft hands who was attending a college with a sticker price of more than $25,000 a semester. I keep thinking about how that student proved something to himself despite having accomplished nothing. Karl Rove remained completely unaffected by the insolence of an eighteen-year-old boy with a chip on his shoulder. If anything, the veteran went home feeling lividly affirmed in his beliefs that liberal youths are rude, privileged, and cruel. That affirmation among conservative voters–however biased—is no small part of why the political rift in our nation has grown so wide and tensions have risen so high.
This was also the first memory that came to mind when I learned that riots developed in Portland shortly after Donald Trump was announced to be our President-elect. While I appreciate how upset some people are, I'm not sure what good it does for white liberals to obstruct other white liberals in one of the whitest cities in one of the whitest states in America. But, in a sense, that's what this election came down to: White voters who support the hypothetical idea of diversity versus white voters who are actually willing to admit that they're bigots. Unfortunately, safety pins don't make it any easier to tell who's who.
Don't get me wrong, I understand why people across our nation are rallying in the streets, and I firmly believe that the protesters absolutely have a right to be obstructive. As any liberal will tell you, protesting is a classic American value (but so is slavery, so maybe we should stop using that dumbass argument). It's also important to remember that there were plenty of conservatives who protested after Obama's election in 2008. It's laughable to see some of those same folks in 2016 saying that today's demonstrations are useless. Although, those who rallied against Obama's election know from eight years of experience how fruitless protests so often are.
Personally, I think it would've been terrible had the 2008 protesters gotten their way. I mean, imagine that! It would've been absolutely insane if a group of like-minded people had influenced our political system simply because they fucked up highway traffic while shouting, "Excuse me, but I'm scared because my way of life is being threatened and I'm legitimately watching that affect my livelihood and my children's future!" That would have been ridiculous! And I know that's exactly what liberals are doing now, but that's totally different because I'm a liberal, and personal bias is the only way to determine whether or not a protest is worthwhile.
But, you know what? Maybe this time, protesting will actually help. Maybe this time, all of the marching and anger and useless symbolism will invoke a sense of unity and compassion. Maybe this time, we can enact fast and necessary change simply by "raising awareness" or "starting the conversation." After all, if current events are any indication, those tactics usually work. It's like how we've been protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and now Donald Trump is our President. It's like how we rallied for gun control reform after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, and now Donald Trump is our President. Or maybe it's more like how we used a French flag filter on our profile pictures or checked into Standing Rock via social media or shared a celebrity's opinion about politics, and now Donald Trump is our President! Just as Wall Street was no match for some poorly organized kids with camping equipment, Donald Trump certainly doesn't stand a chance against cutsie protest signs and a few fearful Facebook posts.
In fairness, this is different from those examples. This isn't just a bunch of white people wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts as they gentrify a historically Black neighborhood. This isn't a group of men thunderously patting themselves on the back for retweeting a feminist hashtag. This is a national state of fear (meaning that rich, liberal white people are now afraid for their own lives), and terror is an excellent catalyst for change.
I understand why we're protesting now just as I knew why that college kid stood up and turned his back on Karl Rove. That student had every right and plenty of reasons to protest, but all his trivial dissent accomplished was to further distance anyone of a different opinion, which is decidedly counterproductive. Similarly, I'm glad that people are out there now, standing up for their values and making themselves heard. I hope, though, that when the time comes, we remember that it's also important to sit down and listen.