January 06, 2011

Peaceful Protest? It Depends On How You Define 'Peaceful'

The neighborhood in which I live is, for the most part, a quiet one.  The streets are lined with trees, and kids run up and down the block to and from the homes where friends live.  The only exception to the tranquility is late Friday and Saturday nights in summer, when the sound of patrons of the bar around the corner finding their way to their cars comes in through my open window, waking me.

It was not a Friday or a Saturday night, however.  It was not late, but early evening.  And it wasn't summer, but one of the coldest nights of winter, when the temperature plunged below forty degrees, which is considered downright frigid in this region.  Reading by lamplight in my living room (which seemed bare withouth the Christmas decorations that were taken down the day before), I was startled to hear the sounds of chanting and yelling outside:  one person with a megaphone leading what sounded like a dozen or more in protest.

What were they protesting?  I couldn't tell.  They were a loud and raucous group.  Their shouts sounded full of anger.  I briefly considered calling the police.  It's a bit frightening to hear a group of people shouting angrily, especially at night.  Not being able to make out what words they were yelling, I wondered if the protest had something to do with the several marijuana dispensaries nearby, and whether the protestors were for or against.

I stepped out onto the front porch.  I could not see the protestors, and I still couldn't make out the words they were yelling.  I walked to the end of our block (a short walk, just a few steps, really) and saw a group of maybe two dozen people in front of the bar, yelling and holding large signs, and chating:  "human freedom, animal rights," or something like that.

That bar is not the best of neighbors (note my earlier comment about noise), so it didn't bother me much that it was being protested, but I wondered how the bar had aroused the anger of animal rights protesters.  I later learned that the bar has a game similar to those "claw" games which offer players a chance to win a toy or stuffed animal, excpet that this particular "claw" game offers the chance to win a live lobster.

I didn't know that at the time; I had never been in that particular bar.  All I knew was that there was a group of people chanting and yelling angrily after dark on a cold Monday evening.

I returned to my living room.  The distant yelling was mildly annoying, like the buzz of a fly hovering up near the ceiling.  It continued for ninety minutes, then stopped.

Had those protesters not sounded so angry and threatening, I might have walked up to them and asked them why they were protesting.  Maybe I would have sympathized with their passion for animal rights.  Maybe I would have told them that I was a vegetarian for several years.  Maybe they would have been able to convince me to go back to being a vegetarian.  And maybe - this is a remote possibility, but still - maybe, if they had taken a more postive and peaceful approach (singing instead of yelling, for example), I would have so sympathized with their concern over the treatment of animals that I would have joined them.

Instead, once my curiosity was satisfied, I ignored them, and what's more, I almost felt sorry for the owners of the bar.


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