You’re Never Too Old to Protest, But Sometimes You Discover the Street Isn’t the Best Place for You to Do That

Photo by Bruce Guthrie

I began my political activism – or, translating that into the parlance of today became woke – in 1968 in my then-conservative hometown of Bridgeton in rural southern New Jersey. One year later, I not only continued that local activism, but expanded my protesting to include the Villanova University campus where I was enrolled as a college student and, periodically through the year and the early years of the decade to follow, at various sites in Washington, DC.

The act of protesting itself and contact with my fellow protesters, most of whom were then older, taught me much about life. For example, it was in the nation’s capital where I was first tear gassed. And where I was first maced. I was spit on and pushed by counter protesters and chased by law enforcement many times. As an activist, I was arrested, harassed, and detained on occasion. I had a policeman in full riot gear place the barrel of a shotgun against the side of my neck and scream “I told you. Shut the fuck up”. I took his advice in the short term and shut up. But after being released from jail the next morning, I resumed my protesting.

From 1974 to 2011, I continued protesting injustice, but almost all of it was done in a much different way — first as a newspaper reporter and then as an educator in poverty-plagued urban school systems. When my wife and I retired, we moved to Crystal City, Virginia, which is only 3 Metro stops from Washington, DC, meaning I could again protest, rally, and march in the nation’s capital. I worked with and aided Occupy Washington. I marched for gay rights, same sex marriage, Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, and science and the environment and I marched against corporate greed, the blood-drenched NRA, and the senseless slaughter of our students in their schools. On 2 occasions, I actually had a chance to speak directly to Donald Trump outside the White House with Kremlin Annex, a group who held nightly rallies opposing the current temporary resident living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Of course, Trump probably didn’t hear me because he was inspecting his White House bunker, watching Fox Fake News with the sound turned up, or tweeting in bed with a cheeseburger on his lap.

Today, another massive rally was scheduled for Washington, DC for many of the causes I believe in, but for the first time since we have been in the DC area, I was not participating.

There were several reasons for my decision. And in the spirit of all those radicals from the 20s and 30s who were kind enough to share their wisdom and experience with me, I would like to offer the same to the young protesters of today, who someday will find themselves old.

If I had to describe myself politically now, I would say I am an uber-liberal, a former radical now tempered by reality and age. I still realize that America faces serious threats to its survival, many of them like racism, class, and income equality carried over from our ’60s days of rage. We also now have the specter of worldwide climate change and global warming which portend the end of life as we know it. And, as the proverbial cherry on the top of this melting poisonous spoiled-ice-cream-mountain-mess of destruction, we also have a coronavirus pandemic which has already taken more than 100,000 American lives and is still with us.

All these deadly threats are compounded by the fact that we are being led (or not being led depending on your personal view) by Donald J. Trump, already identified by historians as the worst of the 45 American presidents.

The realist in me has prioritized that the one thing I can most readily change to help the future is to keep Donald Trump from achieving a second term as president. That is the main reason I chose not to take to the DC streets today. In order to continue working against Trump from now until Election Day and then casting my vote for the person I believe has the best chance of defeating him, I must be alive. As a person in the prime age for COVID0-19, I don’t think the best place for me right now is surrounded by thousands of people, making social distancing impossible.

In addition, neither protesting or the activist skills I now possess are the same as when I first began my activism in the ’60s. While huge protests still prove a point, with the 24-hour news cycle, cable TV, and ubiquitous social media, all protests, not just those in Washington, DC, now find their way onto personal screens everywhere, making the days of huge solidifying marches not as necessary to show the volume of support. In addition, as a writer who uses social media, I have more opportunity there not only to have my face seen and my body counted, but my words can reach far more people than ever before. I also appear on live shows dealing with politics and was scheduled to be on one shared on YouTube, Facebook, and Periscope at the same time I would have been at the DC rally.

But that does not mean I was comfortable staying home, no mater how much work for the cause I felt I was doing.

In a way, I guess it’s analogous to the professional athlete who has reached the end of his on-field playing career and now realizes he can best help his team by managing or coaching from the sidelines. Of course, you miss the thrill that only happens on the field, but you come to understand you can still be a crucial component of any team victory.

So for all the young protesters out there today in DC or anywhere else where I can’t be in upcoming days, here’s some advice:

  • If you are protesting for any cause that Donald Trump is opposing, don’t have second thoughts about if you are right. One of the few constants in life is that Trump is always on the wrong side of what is good.
  • Do not be discouraged for long (although there will be many times when you want to abandon the cause). Major lasting change does not happen overnight. It might not even happen in your lifetime. But if you truly believe in something, fighting for it gives your own life meaning and the fight itself should be viewed as its own reward.
  • Out in the streets today, keep in mind that you should keep using safety recommendations to avoid contacting the virus — wear a mask, try to keep a physical distance of 6 feet from any sustained personal contact, keep hydrated, etc., — and if you feel any signs of illness, immediately remove yourself from the protest and seek immediate medical attention.
  • Be sure to be vigilant and survive all encounters with law enforcement. The cause does not need more martyrs. Tragically, we have too many of them. The passion and commitment you demonstrate by participating in the street is powerful and worthy of great praise, but we need your vote in November to defeat Trump. Then we can move to the next steps to resolve the myriad of problems Trump’s abysmal four-year presidency has only exacerbated.
  • Keep in mind that any sustained action calling for systemic change requires both protesters of the school of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (peaceful, nonviolent) and those who would have followed Malcolm X (by any means necessary). There is place for everyone in a revolution.
  • Do not expect any immediate results from your protesting. Right now, we are simply calling attention to problems in such a way that they become impossible for others to ignore. If you are committed for the long haul, there will be much more to do for you and all those standing (or sitting, or kneeling, or lying on the ground) next to you now.
  • Finally, it is hard for so many of us to breathe right now. For some groups, it has been hard for their members to breathe for centuries. But just because something has been, does not mean it must always be. Change can happen. But it takes a whole lot of dedication, work, resilience, and most all of hope. Please, whatever else you do, do not give up hope. For hope, coupled with action, is always the strongest activist weapon of all.

My Dad, a War, a Memorial, and Me

I wrote this story for an old blog of mine 5 years ago and I’m reposting here for Veterans Day 2019.

By Dave Price

My father, Alvin Owen Price, in World War II

Yesterday was the 69th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. I wasn’t alive for the original VE Day, but my Father, Alvin Owen Price, was. My dad, like millions of men of his generation, was a soldier in World War II. He served in the European theater. And, like most of his contemporaries, he didn’t talk much about his war experiences. Over the years, I did learn some things. Never a fan of imposed authority, my dad spent much of his time rising in the Army ranks, only to be busted back down. He joked that he knew more about peeling potatoes on KP than firing his weapon on a battlefield. He was also convinced that the helmet the Army required him to wear made him go bald.

Actually, my dad didn’t need to use his weapon much. He was assigned to guard German prisoners-of-war. Every so often, some of the prisoners were flown back to the United States for further questioning. My dad would accompany them. They would fly into an airport near Fort Dix, New Jersey. It was on one of these trips to New Jersey that my story actually begins.

One of the soldiers in his unit, Joe Falls, was a native of South Jersey. He told my dad that there was a city named Bridgeton about an hour away from Fort Dix that was known for its parties. My dad, never one to miss a chance to party, said that sounded good. So he and Falls obtained a weekend pass and traveled to Bridgeton.

Arriving in town, my dad and his friend headed to the dance hall. This is how my dad described what happened next. They walked in. My dad saw a woman pouring punch. He turned to Joe Falls and said, “See that woman. That is the woman I am going to marry.”

That woman was Mary Louise Ivins. She taught school and lived with her parents on a farm about 3 miles from Bridgeton.

Over the next couple of years, Alvin courted Louise. On May 9, 1945, the war in Europe ended. In 1946, my father was discharged from Fort Dix. Shortly thereafter, he married Mary Louise Ivins. In 1952, I was born. In 1972, my father died. Three years ago, after retiring, my wife and I left South Jersey and moved to Crystal City, just 3 Metro stops from DC.

And all of that brings us to yesterday, the 69th anniversary of the day the war my dad fought in ended.

One of the great things about living in the DC area is there is so much history here. So I decided to go to the World War II Memorial to pay tribute to all the men and women, but especially my father, who had fought for freedom.

It wasn’t my first visit. I’m sure it won’t be my last. But it was my first visit on VE Day. I could have gone in the morning when there was a special ceremony honoring World War II veterans. But I wanted a more private, personal experience.

The chairs were still set up from the morning’s ceremony, but they were empty now. Those vacant chairs served as a stark reminder that some day in the not-too-distant future there won’t be any World War II veterans to fill them. When I was growing up, it seemed that every man I met had fought in that war. They had escaped death on the battlefield, but no amount of courage can keep you from death forever. Today, about 555 World War II veterans die every day. At that rate, you can see that it won’t be long until they will all be gone.

For those of you who have never visited the World War II Memorial, if you put yourself in the right frame of mind, it can become hallowed ground.

The monument contains vertical markers of all the states and US territories that sent men and women to serve. I went first to the Texas marker. That was where my father was born, the son of Walter Lee and Zonie Mae Price. My dad’s parents were farmers, but the driving winds of the 1930s blew their small farm and their Texas dreams away. So, like the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, they loaded up their truck and headed west, eventually settling in Shelton, Washington. It was there that my dad enlisted.

I walked to the other side of the memorial to the Jersey marker. As I walked, I thought about the travels my dad made. From Texas to Washington state to Europe to New Jersey. I also thought about war – the cause for much of that movement. I never fought in a war. My son Michael never fought in a war. We both hope that neither of his children, Audrey or Owen, have to fight in a war. But my dad wasn’t that fortunate. He did fight in a war. Unlike so many others, he survived. Surrounded by reminders of death, I thought about life. To be more specific, I thought about the what ifs that come with life. What if my dad hadn’t survived the war? What if he hadn’t been assigned to guard German prisoners and come to New Jersey? What if Joe Falls hadn’t brought him to Bridgeton that night? What if Mary Louise Ivins had decided not to attend that dance?

But, of course, none of that mattered.  For all those things did happen. Lost in reverie, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning, I saw an older man in a veterans’ cap. “Could you give something to help homeless veterans?” he asked. I looked in a my wallet. I had $9. I handed him a $5 bill. As sacrifices go, it wasn’t much, certainly nothing compared to all of those made from 1941 to 1945. My dad would have given all $9. He was that way. His generation was that way. That is why they deserve the label the Greatest Generation.  Somehow, I believe they were made of sterner stuff.

It’s hard to follow heroes. But heroes show us how to live in tough times. Eventually they die, but their deeds live on. When he was little, I told Michael about the grandfather he never met.  Both he and I will tell Audrey and Owen about their great-grandfather. I know they will both be interested, but Owen’s interest might be a little stronger since this is where he gets his first name.

And since they are now 6-and-a-half and 5, the next time they come to DC, I will take them to the World War II Memorial and tell them about all the heroes like their great-grandfather of that time. For, no matter what your age, you can never have too many heroes.