Democracy, as many people have noted over the years, can be messy. It also, as others have said, is the worst possible political system — except for every other one that has been attempted.
So, as we traipse through the muck that can be created by strident opinions and outspoken voices on opposite sides of an issue, we rejoice in the fact that those opinions are allowed to be shared in the marketplace of ideas. We revel in the fact that voices can be heard and that Vancouver has become a frequent sounding board for them.
Even if things get a bit messy.
Such was the case last week, when competing protests took place on a pair of Interstate 5 overpasses. At one location was a group holding signs professing that “It’s Okay To Be White,” an extension of a movement launched to demonstrate that “a harmless message” would create a “massive media” reaction. We’re not so sure about a massive reaction, but it’s pretty clear that those who share the slogan are simply trolling the rest of us in hopes of creating discord.
At another location was a group identified as antifascist activists, or antifa, who have developed a strong Portland-area presence and make it a point to show up to counter protests with which they disagree. Vancouver police estimated that about 50 antifa protesters countered a handful from the “It’s Okay To Be White” rally.
Eventually, the groups met up, and reports say there was some shouting and at least one black-clad antifa protester spat in the face of another protester. No arrests were made.
In the context of protests that have taken place across the nation, the event was relatively minor. It did not involve the vandalism that has been witnessed in Portland and elsewhere, nor did it include the vulgar anti-Semitic chants and Nazi salutes employed this year in Charlotesville, Va. Still, the incident commands the attention of people who care about protecting and enhancing our democracy. Ensuring the rights of people to peaceably express their opinion must remain sacrosanct; so, too, must the rights of others to shout down offensive behavior that runs counter to this nation’s promise of embracing people of all colors and creeds.
In organizing the “It’s Okay To Be White Rally,” Morgan Brandfords of Lakewood wrote, “Diversity shouldn’t mean less whites. Your skin color is not evil. You are not racist by birth. You are not a Nazi. It’s Okay to be white.” Sensible people would agree. But Brandfords tapped into the white resentment and sense of aggrievement that helped boost Donald Trump to the presidency and has become a rallying cry. Notably, police said that about six people attended that “rally,” reflecting the lack of traction such resentment has gained in this part of the country.
Many citizens, we are guessing, would prefer to simply ignore the spate of protests and counter-protests that have become de rigueur across the country, wishing they would simply go away. Yet the contentious times in which we live represent part of the cost of our American brand of freedom. There is a reason the Founding Fathers codified the right to peaceably assemble — along with a free press and other rights — in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
So, we celebrate the expression of that right. And we recognize that as long as protesters remain peaceful, the mess that is democracy makes us stronger as a nation.