You Want to Maintain Calm in America? Treat Protestors Like Cows.
A man who grew up on a farm explains that a sense of calm is what we need now more than ever.
Protesters in this country always have the moral high ground. Always. I didn’t make up the rules; the Founding Fathers did. The protesters own that First Amendment right, plain and simple, especially when they’re speaking truth to power. I’ve seen an assembly declared unlawful, and the announcement came after the tear gas was fired. So whether it’s pro-life, anti-police violence, or anti-mask protesting, or you’re in the streets for climate change, women’s rights, gun control or to support the Second Amendment, I’m not splitting hairs anymore. You all have my support based on your right to assemble. I may disagree with what you’re saying, but like Voltaire, I support to hell and back your right to say it.
That said, emotional crowds are like cows: You’d better watch yourself or that fucker will getcha. Any farmer or ranch hand worth their weight in shit could tell you that. Since growing up on a farm, I’ve spent my whole life around cattle. I’ve also been involved with protests since 2012, when I attended a Westboro Baptist Church counter-protest. There ain’t much difference between cattle and crowds. This country may be better off if we looked at protesters the way a farmer looks at his herd, but that’s not saying much. We become animals when we’re pushed past the brink of sanity. Our intellect dissolves and we look for something to lash out against.
In the past when I’ve gotten them cows riled up, all I’ve ever had to do to calm them down was back off. That’s it. When something is under stress, give it space to breathe. Otherwise, you probably won’t like the outcome of frustrating a thousand-pound animal. If people thought of protesters the way a farmer thinks of his herd we’d be all the better for it.
It’s Amazing What We Can Accomplish When We Don't Provoke One Another
One time I was working with an old cow with pink eye. She hadn’t wanted to come up to the pen to eat, and her eye had only gotten worse. Over a few days, her eye grew cloudier. By the time I had her in the pen she was having a terrible time seeing. She stirred up dust as she paced, bawling and snorting toward me. I already had put her under a lot of stress and I still had to get her in a head chute to treat the eye. She’d butt the gate with her head, stamp to one corner and stop just short of plowing through the fence.
Well, no offense, but I’m not as stupid as I look. I wasn’t getting in the pen with her. She was piss mad and stressed beyond a reasonable doubt. I gave her time, gave her hay, gave her feed and water, gave her an hour to settle before I hopped in the pen with her. She looked at me and went back to eating. I clapped my hands a few soft times, cooing to her as I took one slow step at a time, careful not to startle her. Soon she was in the chute with a treated eye, on her way back to eating hay.
It ain’t rocket science.
I’ve seen protests fueled by love and understanding, and they have an amazing way of self-regulating. Love is hard to provoke. It will seek refuge in what it knows to be true. Acts of empathy and compassion look like love. Acts of anger and fear, by contrast, look in the moment like hatred. You can feel that scared anger, that simmering fight-or-flight.
Protests fueled by anger aren’t nearly as uncomfortable as ones fueled by fear. I’ve been at Trump rallies where protesters and rally attendees hurl insults and middle fingers across the police line. I’ve also been to nighttime protests where cops fire tear gas and declare an unlawful assembly, and it’s scary to see people robbed of their senses by tear gas and pushed over the line by police. Everyone is only human, including the police, who want to return home that night and who meet anger with force.
The Future of Democracy Depends on Making Room for Each Other to Say Our Peace
We all have to turn down the heat.
Whether a protest exclaims that Black Lives Matter or rails against mask mandates, it’s made up of people, of Americans, of patriots. Everything else is just noise. Calling one another Marxists or fascists pits us against one another. Dismissing protesters builds only more frustration. Extreme frustration drives people to extreme beliefs, and nothing builds frustration like a do-nothing government.
Protests point to a larger sickness: inaction by politicians who serve special interest groups. That’s why so many people are in the street. That’s why Midwesterners feel forgotten. That’s why longtime voters have dropped out. They’ve lost faith.
The United States will never fall to an outside force, but we could implode. We could cave in on ourselves. Yet when we exercise our fundamental right to point out this fact, politicians and business leaders push us to further extremes.
Peacefully assembly is the most direct action citizens have available. Outlawing it is dehumanizing. When our fundamental rights are lost and we abandon our institutions, what will we be left with? Failure. On a massive scale. A profound disconnect from one another and from the world itself. Democracy will crumble. And when we lose it, reality too will buckle. When we don’t trust the news, our law enforcement, our Congress, our judges, schools, churches or neighbors, what’s left? What will we break bread over?
Our system needs repairs, with real action. We can’t lose one another to extremism. We can’t let each other drift to the edges of the map, because many of us will never come back. If we forget who we are, if we stop talking to one another, we’ll go the rest of our lives believing we’re all more different than we are alike. We will lose everything that propelled us forward. And we really will become more beast than man.