Form of protest can muddy the message

In college, I drove a 1968 Camaro sporting a bumper sticker that asked the question, “How many Vietnamese fought in our Civil War?” I thought it might make many Hoosiers angry. It did lead to many stares but nary an angry word.

My simple form of protest could not be misconstrued as demeaning the Americans who fought over there. It simply pointed out a rational point of view that differed with American foreign policy at that time. I am proud to say that my fellow Hancock County residents never appeared to take offense.

I bring that up because protest and free speech have been on my mind these past several months. I wish protests today were as thought-provoking as that bumper sticker. I wish Americans looked at the act of protest with more respect. And I really wish we would listen to one another before going off the deep end and spewing hatred.

Let me start with the first incident this year that set me off on this subject. The University of California-Berkley, the very school that stood at the forefront of promoting and protecting free speech five decades ago, had protesting students twice this year prevent radical alt-right spokespeople from speaking on campus.

It made we want to fly to California and tell those students whence they could remove their heads. I wish those students realized how hypocritically they were acting.

I have the same message for the all the protestors on both sides of the street who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. I would add that I’d have preferred the white supremacists not have pretended to be protesting the removal of monuments to dead Confederates. No one in their right mind was fooled by it, especially after their anti-Semitic and racist rants. Any protest should be honest and clear in what it is protesting.

Which brings me to the uproar brought on by the NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem. I defend their right to protest. I only wish they had chosen a wiser way to do so. They had every right to complain about indiscriminate shootings of African-Americans by law enforcement officers.

But by kneeling during the National Anthem, they muddied up their message. Millions upon millions of Americans interpreted their action as protesting the American flag and the military who fought to protect it. It wasn’t, but the misinterpretation was easily made.

President Trump’s tweets on the subject only served to confuse the original message further, which led to greater unity among NFL players who altered the message to a protest of the president. So rather than pushing to the forefront the need for a civil discourse on the multitude of questionable police shootings, the players’ means of protest closed off any such discussion.

All Americans need to realize that protests are as American as apple pie. In fact, the United States was built upon protest. Today’s citizens who don’t believe in protests are no different than the Tories of the 18th century who disdained the protests of their fellow colonists.

Protest is a vital component of free speech and, as such, should be revered by all Americans, even when we disagree with the issue being protested. Furthermore, we must all remember that when our veterans fought and sometimes died to protect our rights as a free people, they upheld our right to protest.

Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield. Send comments to