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Day By Day: Wall Street protest isn't something to fear

What's that old phrase - "paranoia runs deep in the heartland?"

It appears to be running in the pages of this newspaper as well -- at least in this space.

I was disappointed to see the same old boogieman mentality rear its head -- especially when it is used to bash basic rights of our society: free speech and the right of assembly.

There are plenty of reasons that the Occupy Wall Street movement has struck a chord and unions -- bashing and busting -- are likely among them. But so are a whole myriad of other, well-founded concerns from unemployment to inequitable taxation to lack of affordable healthcare to the cost in lives and dollars of unfunded wars.

I've heard and read interviews with the protestors who range in age and occupation from young college grads to seniors to middle managers and executives. If there is a problem with the movement, it is that there are too many issues driving it. What I have not heard is a call for the elimination of our democracy and a call to communism. I'm sorry but that interpretation of what is happening around this country and the world is just nuts and seems a deliberate evasion of what is really going on.

This is a movement born of frustration and I get it. I believe that is what got the Tea Party started as well. But while I find their message of no new taxes and anti-government -- all the while trying to legislate what goes on in my bedroom and who can marry who -- a paradox of pretty big proportions, I acknowledge their right to rally, rant, rave and fund candidates.

There have been relatively few arrests and little property damage as a result of the occupations and I don't see what there is to be so afraid of. If I recall my civics from eighth grade, it is my duty as an American to question what my country does, speak up if I don't like what I see and use peaceful, non-violent protest and civil disobedience if warranted.

I was still in grade school when I watched the civil rights protests in the 1960s. I saw kids my age -- 10, 11 and 12 -- marching despite being set upon by fire hoses, dogs and adults who should have been ashamed of themselves. I believe their actions were considered suspect and anti-American but in the end, they helped bring about change that had to happen and might not have except for their courage.

I was a very young adult when the Vietnam War protests were on. When I started high school, I supported the war and was convinced communism had to be stopped wherever. But over the following five years, I read, I listened and I began to see things differently, in large part because of the people who spoke out, marched and put it all on the line. And many considered them unpatriotic, even traitorous and then those individuals went on to become part of our prosperous, taxpaying, hard-working middle class.

Forty years and this is a much different country than during the civil rights era or Vietnam, but what worked to bring about change back then, still has a place in the America we live in. I don't believe we have become a mindless group of people who can be manipulated into action we don't believe in. And community organizers, whether it's our president or the hundreds of people we picture in this paper every year, the kind of people who have worked to bring us the YMCA, a new library and run Operation HELP and the SOURCE, aren't people we should be suspect of, but people we should thank.

Thinking people can disagree, argue, and even protest in public without giving up love of country. There are a lot of things to fear these days but community organizers and protestors and people who disagree with me aren't among them.

Like my colleague said last week, I, too, am beginning to feel the way I did back in the seventies -- I just happen to think that is a good thing for me and my country.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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