FLORENCE GILKESON: Covering Protests -- But Not Joining In
Investigations by Sen. Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee had made everyone suspicious and uneasy by the time I arrived on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus in 1952 for my junior year.
Rumors floated around that Chapel Hill was a hotbed of communists. We newcomers were intrigued by the rumors and stayed alert when we walked in the vicinity of businesses or offices where communists might gather. This country bumpkin was about as likely to turn into a communist as a turnip into an artichoke, but we were all curious. I wondered what a communist looked like.
I never did see one, at least not for sure. From time to time a copy of The Daily Worker appeared in our mailboxes, but we quickly trashed that form of journalism. At age 20, we had other interests, such as whether UNC had a chance against Notre Dame on the football field.
The violent demonstration against former Congressman Tom Tancredo on the Chapel Hill campus reminded me of UNC's spotty history of freedom of speech.
It's always been a paradox that a campus so noted for intellectual discourse and openness of thought was the inspiration for the infamous Speaker Ban Law. The intention was to ban from campus any speaker with a known relationship to the Communist Party. Lawmakers thought our tender young minds simply could not take a lecture by a communist or even a socialist.
Another irony is that there really were not all that many honest-to-goodness communists around in those days, especially in North Carolina. The Soviet Union dubbed itself a socialist political entity -- though I doubt that it could realistically be called that. But I won't quibble on a subject about which my critics are already saying I know nothing.
In the case of Tancredo, a Colorado Republican whose bid for the presidential nomination went nowhere, the sides were reversed. It was the supposed liberal faction raising the ruckus this time, not the conservatives who support Tancredo's views about immigration.
His opponents may well be right in calling his attitude so harsh that it belongs down there with the hate message. But we'll never know because he didn't get to speak.
What violent protesters fail to accept is that squelching views we disagree with just gives credence to those views. How can we fight hate and bigotry if we don't understand our target? I'm sure we could have learned better strategies for dealing with communism if we had understood the concept better.
Sometimes I think that I was raised from birth to be a journalist, the type that objectively views what's happening without becoming emotionally involved. I was never the cheerleading type. Even in high school, I had trouble whooping it up at pep rallies and ball games. While other teens were swooning over Frank Sinatra, I just wondered what all the fuss was about. Frankie was a great singer, but he didn't make me swoon.
The same applies to issues today. I have strong views on a number of subjects but just can't bring myself to join a demonstration or make loud noises either in political meetings or at church. As a news writer, I view a demonstration as something to be covered for the newspaper, not participated in.
Folks who protested the concept of taxation on IRS day had every right to do so, but I could never have joined them.
Taxes are a burden, and maybe folks just need to vent. The tea party protesters were lively but polite. By contrast, the Chapel Hill demonstration was simply unruly. There was no reason for the protesters in Chapel Hill to turn rude before Tancredo uttered a word.
If strenuous exercise is not sufficient to release pent-up hostility, then there is always the punching bag. It's safer and just as effective.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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