There’s an aspect of the Ferguson “unrest” that most people don’t get. From the macro lens of cable news, Internet, and social media, you just can’t understand the stress of the average Ferguson citizen. A town of under 25,000 people is besieged by protesters, hooligans, criminals, and media. I wrote this open letter to you, the residents of Ferguson, to let you know that I understand, and to tell you that life will eventually return to normal, albeit a changed “new normal”. This too shall pass.
Dear Ferguson residents, I sympathize with you. I know what you’re going through, and it makes me sick inside.
I hate protests. I hate them with a visceral, sickening enmity. I spent my teenage years in Seabrook, NH, one of the protest capitals of America—the home of the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant. In 1977, a few thousand protesters showed up in our small town of under 6,000. Over 1,400 of them were arrested. In 1978, 12,000 protesters were there. Over three days in 1980, over 2,000 protesters clashed with riot-geared police. I am very familiar with protests, curfews and mass-arrests.
Two things occur to me about protests. First, the protesters don’t give a rat’s behind about the citizens of the place where they are protesting. A number of the protesters at Seabrook were locals, members of organizations like the Clamshell Alliance and Coalition for Direct Action at Seabrook. Their numbers were small, generally under one hundred, and they were the activists. The activists drummed up support and money, and bussed in the real protesters, along with sycophants, blowhards, and self-promoters to whip up the crowds.
The protesters who didn’t live in Seabrook could care less if they trashed our town. They could care less if they used every public bathroom without buying anything, or simply went au naturelle where they were. They didn’t care how much damage and carnage was left in their wake. All they cared about was getting the news cameras to film them being brutalized by the police, and the leaders having their “no nukes” screed broadcast nationwide. When interest faded, they left, pledging to be back (and dang it, they did come back).
Honestly, I don’t know what their end goal was. I was a teenager then, and I didn’t care. Even now, I wonder: did they think they could just occupy the reactor pressure vessel site, and set up permanent camp there, to prevent construction? Did they think the police would not remove them by force? Did they really think their actions would stop the plant’s construction? Or were they just bored liberals, convinced that nuclear power in general is harmful, so they thought they’d come see what a real nuke plant being built looks like, and suffer a few days in the New England summer heat…or head to the beach when not protesting.
I wonder what the Occupy movement’s end goal was in the same way. Camping out in Battery Park and Boston Common accomplished nothing, except elevating the blowhards and money men who put them there (and the real activists who care about the cause generally end up broke and disheartened).
I wonder what the protests in Ferguson are accomplishing? The news cameras are there. The protesters are there, along with the blowhards, sycophants, politicians, and self-promoters. It’s the same circus, the same clowns, just a different tent. Ferguson resident, are those protesters making your hometown better? Are they cleaning up after themselves? Are they locals or are they bussed in? If it’s anything like I believe protests go, they’re not residents, they aren’t contributing to the economy or health of your town, and they won’t leave things better than they found it. In short, they’re terrible guests.
Despite the protests, Seabrook’s Unit One went online in 1990, and is licensed to continue operating until 2050. Nobody has died. The local clams are still good to eat, the beaches are clean, and there’s been no Fukushima incidents—Seabrook Station may be the safest designed plant in the world. Unit Two was killed by politicians and businessmen. The protesters had no role in this; the real power is held by people in suits.
The second thing about protests is that they bring police. Not just police, riot police. And not local riot police. In 1980, I experienced a Red Dawn moment (4 years before the movie) at school. Looking out the window to the football field, we saw the New Hampshire National Guard roll in, set up tents and command posts, and take the place over. We were dismissed to go home. On the way home, we saw police of every stripe lining Route 1, the main road through town. There were NH State Police, Rhode Island State Police (I particularly liked their grey uniforms, with jack boots and pantaloons, they reminded me of Field Marshal Rommel’s riding uniform), local police with their badges removed lest someone get a badge number, and police from every community within 50 miles of our town.
There were probably at least a thousand cops in view, standing shoulder to shoulder, billy clubs and riot shields at the ready. The next day, they were supplemented by National Guard troops. It was surreal. I had a job at the local grocery store, and to get there, I had to show my ID to police several times to get past checkpoints, because I was a “local”. I suppose if I wasn’t a local, I’d have been stopped. I didn’t care. I hated it.
All told, during those protests, our town’s population was overwhelmed by the protesters, police and soldiers there. Seabrook’s summer population jumps to about ten thousand or more, because of the beach, but we’re talking about at least ten thousand people camped out in the middle of town, and around the town. A stinking, crushing mass of humanity, one group eager to provoke the other, and the other group more than willing to provide the beating and mass arrests.
Ferguson citizen, you didn’t see this coming. Your town is a bit bigger than Seabrook, but this protest thing is overwhelming you. Sure, there was a real incident. Names like Michael Brown and Darren Wilson are national news now, and your town is in the media spotlight, but you’re probably not thinking about those things. You just want life to get back to normal. All the protests and violence won’t bring Michael Brown back, and those seeking justice really don’t mean justice: they mean revenge.
Justice is when the entirety of the truth, to the degree it can be known, is uncovered. This will happen over time. Those who want revenge won’t care what the truth is, they only want one outcome, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But the protesters don’t have the power to grant that. As always, the men in the suits have that power.
Unfortunately, Ferguson’s protests are not at an end. There will be seemingly-endless arguing over the skin color of the prosecutors, the grand jury, which judge hears the case, and if the result is not what the vengeance-seekers want, there will be more protests. There may be more violence, and more upset to your way of life.
If I could show up and make both sides see the utter futility of these protests, I would be on the next plane. In my town, the locals were called Seabrookers, or Brookers for short (it wasn’t a flattering term). I suppose I’ll call you a Fergusonite—Fergusonite, you know your town best. Hold on through this, because all things must pass. Know that I will be praying for you and keeping you in my heart. Before you know it, the press, the circus, and the violence will be gone. For now. Once they come, they always pledge to be back.
I pray that when they come back, you can be ready for them. Instead of revenge, seek reconciliation. Instead of accusation, seek mercy. Instead of self-righteousness, seek grace. Instead of hate, seek love. These are more than just words. They are life. In Seabrook, our protests were against some inanimate object of technology. In yours, it’s about life and death.
Protests are terrible, awful things. By now, you hate them as much as I do. If you see the protesters, do me a favor: tell them this for me. “Why don’t you all just go home. You’re not welcome here.” I’m sure you feel the same way too.
Your friend, Steve