OPINION: America: Nation of Protest

In July of 1675, a whiskey-fueled, furious and enraged man named Nathaniel Bacon aimed at Sir William Berkeley, the then-governor of the Virginia Commonwealth, but Bacon could not take the shot. He ended up leaving with his 500 armed men. Berkeley had refused to venture into the Appalachians and fight the natives to make room for Virginian settlement. Many Virginians with a westward pointed nose and a pioneering mind had felt snubbed that the West had been denied to them.

Bacon’s Rebellion was the first unified rebellion in American history. It set off America in a new direction: a nation of protest.

The Enlightenment was a special time in American history. For the first time since classical Greece, folks agreed that all men were created equal. In America, these men became known as the Founding Fathers, property-owning, aristocratic white men. Yet there was an altruistic nobility in their 1776 Declaration of Independence. While they may have been high-born, they detested colonialism and its runoffs. They spoke for men not entirely like themselves and advocated for the dignity of people unlike them.

At 1787’s Philadelphia Convention, however, conservatism triumphed as these men were granted the reigns of power. They enfranchised only themselves in a system designed to protect their own properties and their own interests. These men became the power they detested.

To the Union’s credit, the American spirit still persevered.

Later movements included those forgotten by the Founding Fathers. In the 19th century, women – whose role had been confined to the home by the ideal of Republican motherhood – began to push for suffrage. Beginning with local movements, women advocated for increased civil liberties. Employing tactics like public speeches, petitions, hunger strikes and acts of civil disobedience, suffragettes drew on previous ideas.

The suffrage movement remained split on the subject of abolition. Some Black women used the movement as a platform to criticize the intersectional issues they faced. Others opposed the Fifteenth Amendment for not including women. While the suffragette followed in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers’ ideals of increased democratic participation, they fell folly to the same issues: a narrow scope only focusing on a select few.

Later, a war-struck American culture became fascinated with conformity. The Red Scare’s emphasis on Americana painted anything outside of the narrow patriotic suburban middle class as “un-American” and therefore dangerous. This revolution of the status quo still implicated many of the same founding values. The 1950s, however, saw something new and uniquely American: the New Left.

America’s blunder in Vietnam brought protests regarding American foreign policy and interventionism. This new movement of post-Marxists and neoliberals alike sparked a shift in American society and a change from the optimism of the 1950s.

Though having roots in rebellion against the Vietnam War, the long hair and colorful clothes of counterculture marked a larger rebellion. Counterculture was a rebellion against mainstream views of war, consumerism and inequality by youth who felt alienated by the suburbs. The protest was tied with a disapproval of racial, ethnic and political injustice. Though hippies defined counterculture in popular culture, they were entirely composed of those who refused to conform to nuclear family values.

There was still one group of forgotten people: Black folk. Starting in 1954, the Civil Rights movement pushed against racial segregation and discrimation that had become a normal part of life for people of color in America. The movement aimed to dismantle the Jim Crow South where these effects of slavery were most notable. The movement achieved significant victories with the passage of civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965 and inspired further protest against the U.S. government.

While first-wave feminism was defined by the fight for suffrage, second-wave feminism was defined against the 1950s. Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 “Second Sex” defined women as othered by society and advocated for liberation, marking the beginning of the ideas that defined the second wave. Starting in the 1960s, feminists defined themselves in opposition to American suburbia, pop culture and the nuclear family.

America, however, is not always a country of progression. In 2016, the election of President Donald Trump can be considered a conservative revolution. His heavy protectionist, anti-immigrant and populist ideals swept through America. Yankees and hillbillies alike protested America’s new precarious position in the world order, which was marked by overbearing foreign interventionism and the 2008 recession.

As Isaac Newton stated over 300 years ago, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction – Black Lives Matter, MeToo and Antifascism. With Trump’s election came movements that sparked conversations about what neoconservatism signified in America. While some reactions were tamer than others, many have retunred to the Philadelphia Convention and its conservative triumph. Those paradigms set up over 200 years ago enabled many of the same issues Americans face today.

Have any of these protests ever accomplished anything great? Have Americans ever been free? After all, reform in America still leaves the same system the Founding Fathers created. In many ways, the American government has been incredibly successful in making farsighted decisions in the conservation of federal power. With each concession made, the U.S. government superseded this with another check on liberties. The Emancipation Proclamation made way for the repatriation of thousands of freed slaves and, moreover, their segregation. America’s withdrawal from Vietnam only distracted from America’s intervention in South America, Afghanistan and the South China Sea.

The Indigenous peoples cannot be forgotten. Stemming back to before Bacon’s Rebellion, natives have been the victim of colonial aggression. Native civilizations that numbered millions before 1492 were rendered hapless in their reservations’ squalor. They did not back down from this adversity, however, as the American Indian Movement of the 1970s proves. From 1969 to 1971, the protesters occupied Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay Area. They were protesting against violated treaties, the Nixon administration’s exploitation of their resources and condemned lack of tribal autonomy.

Their legacy cannot be labeled American – the moniker of their oppressors – but represents a great influence on American culture. After all, the Founding Fathers dressed up as Mohawk natives during the Boston Tea Party. During the Revolutionary Wars, natives fought alongside the colonists. Thus, their sacrifice cannot be forgotten. America’s signs, murals and artworks contain allusions to the great chiefs of the 19th century, and to express courage and pride, young Americans can be told to “fight like a brave,” in an idiom dating back centuries.

Much of the cultural, political and social diversity of Americans can be attributed to those who walked this land before the white man.

A country formed by discontent will never reconcile their values with tyranny. There is a long way for America to go on her odyssey. And while American culture is unlike any other, its fraternal relationship with countries such as Mexico and France grant it a foreign sophistication. It has been a long time since the Founding Fathers, yet there’s a great strength in how far Americans have come.