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Talk It Out

Columnist: Mike Martini
February, 2015 Issue
Columnist

Mike Martini
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I watch the demonstrations in Santa Rosa, Berkeley and Oakland with interest. I get the passion, but I think the tactics are flawed.

 
I was born in January 1953, making me, by all accounts, a baby boomer.
 
Along with my childhood friends, I was raised by parents who suffered through epidemics in their youth, the Great Depression in their teens and World War II in their 20s. They were part of what Tom Brokow called “The Greatest Generation.” Out of their challenges, they developed considerable focus and a commitment that their children would live in a better world.
 
With a strong post-war economy, we were given security as children. As adolescents, we were given considerable freedom and opportunity. In hindsight, we were spoiled, but it was a magical time. It was post-birth control and pre-AIDS. The Summer of Love lasted for years. The fashion was hideous and the hygiene was poor, but the music was—and remains—great.
 
We took the vision of a better world in directions that our parents didn’t foresee.
 
Civil rights, gender equality and a war of questionable value were all challenged. We took the issues from the college campuses to the coffee houses and the streets. Change happened. It was slow and unruly at times. While there is room for continued improvement, we now celebrate the marriage of two people based on love and commitment and not on gender. White America has elected a black president.
 
I say this because I watch the demonstrations against perceived police violence in Santa Rosa, Berkeley and Oakland with interest. I get the passion, but I think the tactics are flawed.
 
Demonstrations are empowering. You feel a part of something much bigger. This is especially true for the young. It’s often the first time you feel in charge or that you have a voice.
 
But the reality is, you’re marching with people who agree with you—and they aren’t the ones you need to convince. Change comes through dialogue and not demonstration. Demonstrations call attention to the issue, but if you alienate the people who need to be convinced of the cause, you’ve lost.
 
The demonstrators don’t need to convince other demonstrators. They don’t need to convince the media. They need to convince those inconvenienced behind the blockade on the freeway. They need to convince the shopkeepers and business owners along the parade route. They need to convince the electorate at large.
 
The change we saw in the ’60s and ’70s wasn’t the direct result of demonstrations. Rather, through dialogue and discussion, the large voting middle class began to think about the issues of race and gender equality. The real turning point for the war in Vietnam was when Walter Cronkite, the voice and soul of the middle class, questioned the role of the United States in the war.
 
Baby boomers became a part of the middle class. We started families and careers but maintained the belief in why we marched. We elected people who would implement the policies we supported.
 
The demonstrators chant for justice, but the justice they chant for is their justice. There was a process following each incident. They’re unhappy with the result. They’ve tried and convicted people without the due process they seek. Their concern more appropriately lies in the process. Change in process requires changes in policies—and that change requires a different set of tactics.
 
At the heart of the issue today is the profiling of young people of color. But it’s hard to convince me you aren’t a thug when you put on a dark hoodie, don a kerchief as a mask and loot a store.
 
I commend those demonstrators who try to stop the looters and distance themselves from that behavior. They need, however, to completely separate that activity if they wish to talk about change. The demonstrators have gained our attention. Now they need to make their case, offer alternative policy and win over the majority with a persuasive campaign. This is the hard work of policy that is so often missed in the excitement and empowerment felt in a march or a sit-in. It’s how we change.


 

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