Amid the fun and optimism of the Ronald Reagan dinner at this past weekend’s “Defending the American Dream” Summit, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, came a gathering of the “Occupy D.C.’ movement that congregated outside the Washington Convention Center Friday night. Conference goers looked down at the crowd with the same curiosity one would have at watching a caged animal at the zoo. As most of the protesters averaged an age in the early twenties, the AFP participants averaged, well… older. Thus fulfilling the old Churchillian axiom of, “If you are 20 and not a liberal, you have no heart and if you are 40 and not a conservative, you have no brain.”
With the onset of one’s third decade comes energy and passion on a grand scale. That passion is ignited with meteoric intensity when one’s worldview goes from the sandbox to the planet as a whole. Much more so is that hunger amplified when they witness a world suffering in real time on YouTube or the 24-hour news cycle.
Each new generation decries the injustices of the world; each older generation replies firmly, “ehhhh shut-up!!”, for it takes a generation who has had their idealology collide with reality to properly put the young bucks in their place; not just because they can, but because it is the right thing to do.
Cue the protesters. Being the middle aged chap I am and having had my endurance sneak off into the night some time ago, I was ready to call it a night at the conclusion of the dinner (around 9:00). So, I headed out of the convention hall in a circular pattern to avoid the bulk of the “peaceful assembly” and promptly got lost (those who know be best will not be shocked by this). After the usual period of exercising my masculine pride, I finally decided to ask someone for directions. As it turned out, I had wandered my way back to the edge of the convention center and, as it was, next to the ODC folks. I met eyes with one of the least “unusual” of the crowd and asked him for directions. I don’t know if it was because I came from the opposite direction or that I usually dress at the low end of the acceptable fashion totem pole and probably didn’t resemble the stereotypical “evil, rich conservative”, he freely engaged me in conversation.
After setting my compass back to true north, he invited me to join the protest. I had removed my rank insignia as a junior officer in the conservative army, feigned ignorance and asked him to explain why they were there.
He introduced himself as Dominic, a young fair-skinned man who I surmised was in his early twenties, and proceeded to tell me of the purpose of their assembly. To my surprise, he calmly, yet energetically explained why he believed they were there, sans any screaming, yelling or the usual vitriol one sees on the news (or later at this gathering). He proclaimed his interpretation of the injustice of the tyranny of the elite 1% over the masses.
At this point, I could have launched into my usual debate mode and, of course, would have won decisively on points, but by this time, I wanted to track his logic (or lack thereof). It was clear that he was not the “typical” OWS type, full of rage against the machine, but with no clear target – in other words, “Ready, FIRE…. Aim.”
Dominic proceeded to lay out his argument for equality and justice, clearly coming from a desire to see the world a better place and, as misguided and misinformed as it was, it was still pure. I would query from time to time as to the unrealistic nature of his argument – that there could actually be a 1% versus 99% reality in a democratic republic. When I asked why there should not be a huge majority of 99%ers in both houses, he couldn’t really proffer an effective responsible.
Suppressing my human instinct to yell, “a HA!’ and commence a victory dance, I continued to ask questions that challenged his positions. Some of his responses were typical programming, while some would actually make sense, at least on paper. Yet all of them stemmed from that youthful enthusiasm all of us have experienced at that age.
After a few more minutes of discussion, we parted ways amicably, without a voice being raised or personal insults hurled. It was a debate, not a confrontation. I could clearly see that Dominic was not the stereotypical “Occupy _____” protester as all during our conversation, a gaggle of less mature folks gathered at the convention entrance, hurling insults and epithets toward people they had never met (and eventually became violent).
Neither Dominic nor I “won” an argument that night, because we didn’t engage in one. We had a discussion; at most, a debate. Perhaps seeds of both wisdom and youthful energy were sown – I more than likely will never really know because I will probably never see his like again. I’m pretty sure he will never see this article, at least on this site, but then again, 20 years is not so long a time.
As I walked to my Metro stop, I realized I had experienced what has become a rarity in our modern, post-Jerry Springer society – a civil conversation. And while the Earth didn’t spin off its axis or miraculously heal itself, we both will reap dividends far beyond the obvious and immediate. What I realized is that we were both doing our jobs. His was to bark at the moon and mine was to teach him how, where and when to effectively do so. Dominic is on the other side of the idealogical aisle from me, but that does not make him my enemy. At worst, he is a worthy opponent; at least he is a member of the field “white for the harvest.”
It will be the Dominics of the world that will hopefully have a Damascus road experience and simply turn their passion loose on what works best. He and his kind will rise above the base emotions, combining heart and head to help a fragile world realize its potential.
Our job is to find the Dominics, separate them from the herd and raise them up in the way of generations past. The worst thing we can do is to leave them alone or try to destroy their zeal. The best thing we can do is redirect it.