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Who Could Protest a Demonstration?

Civics: The clash of ideas and ideals over Vienna Philharmonic was America at its best.

March 16, 1997|CATHY L. JENSEN | Cathy L. Jensen is an American Civil Liberties Union volunteer attorney who has a law practice in Tustin specializing in criminal bankruptcy

South Coast Plaza had a magical quality on March 4, the night of a Vienna Philharmonic concert at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Tiny white lights studded the tree trunks. Live music drifted out of Birraporetti's. An undeniable sense of purpose permeated the air, not like the frenzy before the doors open at a Nordstrom sale. There was a communal commitment to something that wouldn't fit into a Giorgio's yellow and white striped shopping bag.

I can't think of anything more American than leafleting, with the possible exception of apple pie. It is a living civics lesson that parents can share with their children. Success isn't which side of the issue my offspring come down on, but that they develop their own passions, and the conviction to stand up for them. In private, when friends disagree with friends, and in public, to increase awareness of issues that should weigh heavily on our consciences.

I recognized many of the people handing brochures to concert-goers as veterans of the days when patients needed escorts to enter family planning clinics. I hope that our group included not only the escorts, but also some of the clinic protesters. There should be room on a common ground for all of us on the issue of racial and gender equity in employment.

I wish that Miss Manners had a chapter on demonstration etiquette. It saddened me to see that some of my well-heeled neighbors couldn't look me in the eye when I politely offered them a brochure with information on the evening's performers (i.e., white males). The world would be a better place if we could look into the eyes of people with whom we disagree.

I realize that many of the night's patrons never before had walked through a crowd of folks peacefully exercising their 1st Amendment rights. Apparently, there was some divisiveness in the air, as one man pulled his female companion toward the concert as she surreptitiously shot a two-fingered victory signal to those who remained outside. Another man challenged my right to express an opinion by demanding to know what instrument I played. I can't imagine why it seemed to surprise him when I replied, "Organ, piano, clarinet and violin." Perhaps he was raised in Austria, where the only real musicians are white males.

The next time that you drive by a demonstration, support free speech and honk your approval, if not for their political position, for the commitment to express one's beliefs. Take your kids to Main Place when there is a candlelight vigil against the death penalty. Find out what they think about people who would stand out in the cold for hours. Let them know how lucky we are to live in a country that allows us to openly disagree with our government in safety.

I love a demonstration. It makes any day the Fourth of July, even if there isn't a parade.

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