I'm watching the events in Washington over the course of the last two days, as great crowds gather there to participate in public demonstration. Many were there to welcome the new President, and many were there to protest his ascension to the office. It is this latter group that I concern myself with here.
Clearly, something has moved them to this act--the act of public protest. There is the investment of their time and whatever money it cost to be there, so there is also a question of logistics for many. Those who protest without violence have my consistent approval. Knock yourselves out. That's what we do here---we bitch, we march, we get on TV. I don't necessarily get it right now, because my temperament leads me to believe someone should actually DO something worth protesting, rather than protesting on the basis of what they might do or what they have said they might do. But that's just me.
This process has however, led me to wonder what kinds of things might bring me to the act of public protest. I am an ideological conservative. Public protest is just not what we do. I certainly do not protest in anticipation of societal ills, and I doubt very seriously whether I could be brought to the point of marching and sign waving by the jot and tittle of our political process--meaning that when my side loses a legislative debate--I will raise noise here and on other social media, but I won't hop in my car, drive to the metro, pack myself like a sardine among others similarly moved by the political loss, and march. Put another way, I don't think you'll see a "Million Brooks Brothers March" any time soon.
No, for me to be moved to march, bright lines would have to be crossed. And so, in an effort to figure out what might drive me to the barricades, here is a framework for what would cause me to consider it:
1. The government is in some way actively and purposefully abridging the Constitutional rights of the citizenry. Short of the kind of thing Lincoln did in the Civil War, the Bill of Rights MUST mean something. It makes no difference if the action comes as the result of legislative majority. The Greeks told us long ago that the people can be a tyrant. An example? The internment of American citizens of Japanese descent in WWII. This would have brought me to the streets.
2. The government is in some way actively and purposefully enforcing the law in a manner that selectively targets groups based on their group affinity, as a matter of public policy. Had the Obama Administration been more convincingly shown to have (from the very top) targeted conservative groups for IRS intimidation, I could see myself carrying a sign in front of the IRS building. As it turned out, it looks to me that lazy (but still ideologically motivated) IRS officials DID go after conservative groups, but the lack of a direct tie to the White House seems important. That said, if it were shown that the Trump Administration was in some way punishing its enemies using the apparatus of the State selectively, this would trip my "protest" logic. But this logic applies to any administration.
3. The nation engages in an armed conflict I consider antithetical to our interests. This is a tough one and full of interpretation. But that my friends, is what deciding whether to protest is all about. I have a rather wide "bucket" into which I place our national interests. Some are economic. Some are security. Some are reputational. And I can easily get to the point of not supporting a whole range of interventions. But one that brings me to the streets would likely have to be waged for reasons largely disconnected from even a loose interpretation of what I consider to be in the nation's interests.
Any suggestions for other criteria? I guess what it boils down to for me is the difference between how I react to a policy setback, and how I react to essential Constitutional questions.