Good on ya, Greenpeace!

Hat tip to Cory at the Madville Times for posting this video on the Greenpeace action on Mount Rushmore on Tuesday.

Watching that video, and the second one Cory posts, showing the demonstrators in cuffs, being led away by rangers and heckled by bystanders, fills me to bursting with two very strong emotions: pride in the bravery and message of the mountain-scalers, and sadness and disgust at the reactions of those shouting “Hang ’em high,” and “Go back to Communist Russia!”

The message emblazoned on that image, unfurled alongside the faces on the mountain, reads “America Honors Leaders Not Politicians. Stop Global Warming.”  It seems to me that if the bystanders had actually read the message, they might have agreed with it. Or perhaps it was the group the message was coming from they didn’t like?

I think that message is one that most anyone can agree with–it’s pretty clear that Americans don’t really care for politicians that much–about as much as they collectively care for lawyers (and apologies to my lawyer friends for that).

They don’t much care for people who make promises to get where they want to be, then reneg on those promises once they get there. What they honor about those presidents on the mountain is their leadership, not their politicking.

Greenpeace’s message asked these questions of President Obama (whose image also appeared on the banner) in a very public way: Do you want to be a leader? Do you want to be remembered through history as these men are? Or do you want simply to be a politician–because there’s no honor in that.

Unfortunately, sadly, those bystanders who shouted for the demonstrators who’d scaled the mountain, braved the winds, and accepted the consequences of being arrested for their action, to be “hung high” and thrown in jail–those who shouted for the demonstrators to “shut up”–those hecklers couldn’t even see that their demands were those of repressive regimes, not free societies.

Yesterday, I heard the Chief of Public Affairs for the National Parks Service, David Barta, along with Jessica Miller and Kurt Davies from Greenpeace on Dakota Midday discussing the action.  Barta said (not a direct quote): if we allow them to do this, we have to let everyone–Mount Rushmore would be a constant demonstration/advertising site, and that would detract from the experience of people who come to see it.

The whole point of the demonstration is that it wasn’t allowed.  Protests and demonstrations that are hemmed in and cordoned off and relegated to silent street corners and out-of-the-way places simply aren’t as effective at getting a message out.

Sometimes to make an effective statement, you have to take a risk and accept the consequences.

The ranger went on to explain that people who visit Mount Rushmore come to see the wonder and think about history and don’t want to be concerned about news of the day and current events.  But it seems that if the Parks Service wants Rushmore to be seen as the citadel of democracy, they ought to at least be somewhat prepared for democracy-in-action.

Yes, the rangers had to arrest the activists and go through the procedures. That’s their job, and the Greenpeace folks knew that and accepted the consequences.  They did it because their message is so important, so urgent–it needed to be broadcast from the mountain-top, and I admire their courage for doing so.

Violent demonstrations and destruction of public property are another thing entirely–this action neither damaged the monument nor caused injury or death to participants or bystanders. The rumored damage to security equipment will be covered in the restitution and sentencing of the activists, and they are prepared to cover it.

Then there are the detractors who keep repeating, “but they broke the LAW!” “What about the LAW!”

IMHO, those people have entirely too much respect for laws, and not enough respect for what’s really important: free speech, democracy, and the health of the planet we all share.


6 responses to this post.

  1. It is absurd to think that a “citadel of democracy” would not be a hotbed of conversation about the vital issues of the day. Where better to discuss the great challenges facing the nation than under the stern gaze of the images of historic leaders who tackled great challenges of their own?

    If democracy is sacred, and if Mount Rushmore is its “shrine,” it should be a boisterous shrine, where all are welcome and none are told to shut up.

  2. Posted by Frank James on July 11, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Civil Disobedience is a little taught or understood element of our democracy. I think the shouts and hecklers were a part of this. Largely no on in South Dakota was the target of Greenpeace’s message.
    My first reaction was concern over the reaction from South Dakotans who will rush to protect this symbol of democracy and largely the symbol of our state. (Someday I would like to see a different picture on our license plate, being a lover of the prairie)
    I’m thrilled with the thoughtful discussion and debate brought forward by Cory and Rebecca. Thank you both, hopefully these posts will be widely read and discussed.
    Briefly, my first brush with civil disobedience happened in South Dakota while I was attending SDSU. The Dominican Priests at the Catholic Campus Parish would spend every Easter morning trespassing on a missile silo in western South Dakota and the rest of the weekend in jail.
    They did it quietly and with little fan fair but it greatly impacted me and helped start me on of life working with grassroots organizations.
    I just wanted to give a nod to some who do this without all the flash.
    Thank you again.

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