My First Protest Rally Since the 60s

This Boomer is better for joining a protest rally with Millennials and Gen Zs.

Wednesday, I went to a protest rally at the courthouse in Naples, Florida.  My friends were scandalized, but it turned out to be a great experience.  I was one of a handful of Boomers in a sea of Millennials and Gen Zs.  I was glad that my mask hid my age, and pleased when BLM and NAACP leaders asked the crowd to applaud the police and to be good protesters by not harming buildings or leaving trash on the streets. 

A New Breed of Protester  

      Actually, these kids were less violent than we were in the 60s. The radicals of our day were Stokely Carmichael, Abbie Hoffman, the Black Panthers, and the Weather Underground.  They were more militant than Antifa and Black Lives Matter.  Today’s  militants have carved out their own autonomous zone in the Capital Hill section of Seattle.  But, I was part of a march that shut down the freeways in King County.  Kent State was a war zone. Bombs were set off in Federal Buildings during the 60s and 70s. We too often forget the anarchy of our Boomer youth. 

     Yet the protesters who surrounded me on Wednesday evening were a different breed. This seemed more like a “happening” than a protest—“school’s out, and the beaches are closed, so let’s go where the action is.”  Almost everyone was taking selfies to post on Instagram, proving that they were social justice warriors.  If this were a beer, it would be labeled Protest Lite.  The kids in this march were drinking Starbucks and Lacroix sparkling water rather than carrying F—Trump signs and Molotov Cocktails.  Yet the passion and energy were contagious.  Speeches called for reforming, not defunding, police.  I found myself clapping for some ideas.

     Though there were several periods of chanting, “George Floyd! George Floyd! George Floyd!” he was only a symbol—a reason for various social justice tribes to gather for a common cause: CHANGE!  Rainbow flags fluttered everywhere.  It seemed that the LGBTQ contingent outnumbered the BLM and NAACP folks. Among the protesters were advocates for immigration reform, Democratic Party activists signing up Millennials and Zs to vote,  PETA, and Greenpeace.  Progressives were waving American flags, and guys on the stage were reading portions of the U.S. Constitution.  Whether or not I agreed with everything being promoted, I was witnessing American Democracy in action.     

Rain Came and the Revolution Ended

     About an hour into the rally, we were hit with a tropical downpour. Protestors scattered, most heading for cover in the courthouse parking garages. I found myself hovering in a doorway with an old hippie and an African-American couple in their late 70s.  The Civil Rights warrior sadly shook his head and said,  “Look at those young folk scatter.  The rain comes, and the revolution is over!”  The aged Vietnam War protester agreed:  “Millennials aren’t as tough as we were.”  

     The African-American continued, “When we marched with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery, we kept moving ahead in the pouring-down rain.  We didn’t run for cover when there was thunder and lightning.  We didn’t look for shade when it turned blazing hot.  Nothin’ stopped us—not the KKK, or redneck sheriffs, or Bull Connors and his dogs.”  The old hippie in the grey ponytail chimed in, “Kids today couldn’t have stood like we did against Richard Nixon’s Gestapo.”  

     I stifled a smile.  I might as well have been over at the local VFW Post, or in locker room at the country club, listening to old Conservatives grouse, “These young folks today wouldn’t have the courage to storm the beaches of Normandy or stand up to the Viet Cong.”  Both old Lefties and senior citizen Conservatives have one thing in common:  a concern about the toughness of their grandchildren, or their willingness to stand strong in the battle for America when the heavy rains come. 

     I couldn’t help but wonder too.  Is this current battle for the heart and soul of America like a mission trip?  We spend a week or two in a developing country, return home energized to make a difference, only to slip back into our former lethargies. Critical reforms are needed, but are the protests only a temporary eruption of emotions?  Selfie moments?  Images of virtual revolutionaries on Instagram?  And, then, when the rain comes—we all head for cover. 

Then the Old Folks Headed for Their Automobiles

     After blasting the young protestors, the old Civil Rights warriors and Vietnam War protesters picked up their folding lawn chairs and headed back to the parking lot.  In Naples, even old revolutionaries go to bed by nine o’clock.  I smiled at the irony of them bailing out just like the young folks they were criticizing—except that, after the rain stopped, and the golden oldies were on their way home, the young protestors come out of the parking garages and headed on their march up Fifth Avenue.  So, maybe the old warriors spoke too soon—and quit too early.    

The Battle is Bigger than a Few Protest Marches

     We forget that our nation was birthed in violent protests that took place in Boston and other colonial cities during the 1770s.  But the fight for freedom took seven brutal years of warfare.  The abolitionists who marched during the 1850s didn’t stop when politicians compromised on the issue of slavery.  Abraham Lincoln never gave up when the tide of public opinion turned against him.  Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t throw in the towel when he was tossed into the Birmingham jail.  Civil Rights warriors didn’t cut and run on that long road from Selma to Montgomery.  The fight for freedom, justice, and peace must never stop until America finally becomes that “Shining City on a Hill” envisioned by our Pilgrim forefathers and mothers. 

     Upon reflection, I am grateful for my evening at the protest rally.  It was a slice of the great American drama.  Our young folks have great instincts about the corruption that permeates our nation and world.  But they need leadership.  Unfortunately, too many old warriors have packed up their lawn chairs and headed home.  

     Our job is not to convince the young that the status quo is good.  Reforms are desperately needed in too many areas. The American dream is always a fragile thing.  We are never more than a generation away from losing it.  Yet the battle for the future of faith, family, and country must be fought by all the generations united together.  Polarization is a common enemy of the public good.  The far right and fringe left are pulling hard on the edges of our national fabric, and it is in danger of being split right down the middle.  

     It’s high time that we listen to each other, speak frankly and honestly, face brutal truths, confess past sins, and figure out how to forge the future together.  As Christians we have, as our ultimate example, a Savior who finished what we was sent here to do. St. Paul breathed these last words: “I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.”  He never folded his lawn chair and ran for shelter when the storms came.  It’s not time for us old warriors to retire, but to re-fire!  

     I’m glad I went to that protest rally.  It gave me a new appreciation for our Millennials and Gen Zs.  It also energized me for the fight ahead.  I want to work with the next generations to forge a better future.  That’s my Legacy Imperative!          

Dr. Bob Petterson
Legacy Imperative