Op-Ed: Protesters miss big picture

While I appreciate the fervor with which many of this year’s globalization protesters voiced their views, they fail to see the larger picture and instead resort to the seemingly the last acceptable form of bigotry left – America bashing. I acknowledge that some people give voice to important issues and can proudly point to certain concessions made by the World Bank as directly related to protester requests. But when it comes to seeing the forest through the trees, the protesters come up short.

I fully accept and defend the right of any citizen to speak against a government or policy they disagree with, as well as the right of non-violent protest. But when the discussion turns to how all the ills of the world can be placed at America’s collective feet, it is perhaps time for a pause.

The most fundamental thing that our country exports is not a good or service; it is an idea. Unlike the president (who, in fairness, I voted for and support), who lists “democracy” as a human right, says it is in fact the underlying freedom of America that should be universal. This is why people should demonstrate. This is what our legacy will be after our time has passed.

A little more than 226 years ago the Founding Fathers created two documents that are the truest expression of the human condition. While not original in substance, they remain unique in style. Drawing from the Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Right (1628) and the Bill of Rights (England, 1689), among others, the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1788) are still the longest continually enacted documents that determine governance in a free society. The Bill of Rights (United States, 1791) explained not the mechanics of governance, but the ideology.

It is for these concepts that one should demonstrate. Protest because these notions of freedom are not practiced on a global scale. This is the worldwide injustice. These sentiments strike at the heart of what it means to be a human being. Why worry about 20,000 women in school in Tanzania when you can help the billions around the globe that suffer from the hell of tyranny and the politics of whim? Those who work in sweatshops are, sad to say, better off than those who are suppressed simply because they are women. Protest the politics of religious persecution instead of the politics of organizing teaching assistants. Practice the politics of Solidarity, with a capital “S.”

I know that America has its problems. But what separates truly great nations from the ones that are destined to remain culturally and politically backwards is the idea that the will and consent of the governed can change the course of history, to overcome all odds, to end hate and to live in a just society.

For those who charge that I have conservative beliefs, I reply that we all should. The seed of freedom and its growth into democracy are values every citizen of the world should hold dear. For those who charge that my views are too Euro-centric, that they have sprung from the great European humanitarian tradition, I say to you, “I am guilty.” There is a difference between being culturally insensitive and recognizing the freedoms that have been endowed to each individual.

Freedom is not stoning a young girl to death after she was raped because she did not “defend her honor.” Freedom is not denying education to young girls simply because of their sex. Freedom is not the politics of religious persecution. Freedom is not the oppression of peoples simply for who they are and what they believe. To suggest that these are just cultural differences is an utter disgrace. To hide behind the veil of religion is cowardice. To say that this is an idea that’s time has not come is ignorance.

To stand up for economic and social injustice is human. To stand up for those who yearn for freedom but cannot receive it is heroic. It is time to protest so that all may be free.

-The writer is a 2001 graduate of the Elliot School of International Affairs.

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