Political protest can be difficult. Civil disobedience often requires courage. Think of Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights fighters who marched on Selma a half-century ago.
There are potential risks to one’s limbs, one’s freedom and even peace of mind for speaking out and putting one’s body on the line.
Fortunately ours is a country that has tolerated or at least understood that such dissent is essential. Surely this was tolerated or understood better at certain times than at others.
No one should think the McCarthy era that saw congressional witch hunts for would-be communists was anything but a black stain on U.S. history. We don’t need another like it.
But as we emerge from the nastiest election cycle in memory, a few things stand out.
First there is a tradition of local protest at the state Capitol — and in our capital city. State officials have mastered the art of allowing it while keeping peace and letting the government’s work proceed. Witness the campers in the Capitol Rotunda several years ago who were peaceably removed by state troopers. Or the tent city that cropped up temporarily at Heritage Park and eventually was dismantled.
Another notable protest resulted in vandalism at City Hall this year. Thugs with baseball bats intimidated others and broke windows at City Hall. The criminality of those actions overshadowed any credible message those actors ever hoped to deliver.
There also have been assaults related to protests against police.
Such protests based in use of force or violence need to be contained. Penalties should be imposed. Such actions clearly cross the line into criminality and deserve prosecution.
The recent criminal trial of armed, anti-government protesters at the Malheur National Refuge in east-central Oregon is similarly a case where prosecution was deserved.
Armed insurrections have little place in our daily lives. Unfortunately, Portland, Oregon, jurors in the Malheur case were unable to agree that the agitators who took over the federal refuge had conspired to thwart federal workers from doing their jobs. So justice was denied.
The Malheur protesters had seized federal land occupied public land by force, used weapons to intimidate and secure their positions, and left a fecal legacy on former tribal lands that deserved far more environmental sensitivity.
Nothing to respect there.
Peaceful protest, by contrast, earns respect by remaining peacefully purposeful. That doesn’t mean that penalties can not be justifiably imposed for trespassing or incidental damage to private property. Those protesting should always understand that their willingness to accept penalties — including incarceration — is what gives their actions power or the equivalency of political speech.
More recently our region has seen protests against Donald Trump, oil trains, shipments of fracking proppants, and other issues. Some of those have temporarily blocked rail tracks — including last week in Olympia.
Such protests as the one on the railroad tracks don’t really change underlying reality. Protesters may be carried off and potentially jailed. And proppants from China will ultimately move through this port or be shipped along other routes to oil-fracking operations in the Dakotas or Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately this protest story doesn’t end there. During this post-election period, some lawmakers want to take a page from former Sen. Joseph McCarthy by stoking fear and demonizing people they disagree with. State Sen. Doug Ericksen, a Republican from Cherry Point, is one such actor.
He’s proposing legislation to make it a felony to block train tracks or impede commerce, calling it economic terrorism.
That is ridiculous. We don’t happen to think it is effective or wise to block train tracks. But those who impede tracks can be dealt with under existing statutes
By labeling such peaceful protests as “economic terrorism,” Ericksen is trying to equate dissent with America’s worst enemies.
It’s the kind of demagoguery we might expect from Donald Trump.
It may be only a coincidence that Ericksen was deputy manager of Trump’s Washington campaign.
Or, maybe Ericksen was just doing another favor for the refiners and other fossil-fuel interests he has long served as a legislative point man.
It also may be that Ericksen, who has long shown more interest in throwing political bombs than solving real problems, just enjoys a bit of media celebrity. Think of it as Trump jealousy.
Whatever the answer, Ericksen is offering demagoguery, plain and simple. That he began crafting legislation before the election doesn’t change that. He is tapping into a larger hatred of terrorists and trying to tie his foes to them.
Nothing to respect there.