Protesting is good for the soul.

We should all embrace those who push back against the norm, who question authority and who challenge our social, political and economic assumptions.

The waves of protest that have rolled across the nation — and the world — over the last two weeks has been astounding. They are a sign of some deep-seated problems which need to be aired out in public.

Things have changed — or have they?

Protesting is part of American's DNA. Our nation was founded by protesters who defied the British government.

It was a protest that led British soldiers to shoot into a crowd in Boston, an event now known as the Boston Massacre. The soldiers were under threat by a mob of protesters who threw stones, snowballs and clubs. That harassment led British soldiers to fire into the crowd, killing five people. That reaction became a huge propaganda tool for Americans who used it to paint British soldiers as killers and bullies.

Around the same time, the Sons of Liberty movement organized. It was the Black Lives Matter of its era, a secretive group that worked to undermine British authority across the colonies.

In their anti-British protests, the Sons sometime rioted and damaged property. They were the "radicals" of their time, using intimidation and harassment to further their anti-British cause.

Their most famous action was the looting of British tea by throwing cases of tea into the Boston Harbor in 1773. The Boston Tea Party has became one of the most famous incidents of American history. But it was done by the liberals of the 1770s. (That some of today's conservative groups use the phrase "Tea Party" as a moniker is the ultimate irony of history.)

It was British efforts to put down the protests in America that, in part, led to language in the First Amendment for citizens to have freedom of assembly.

Americans have used that right to protest many times over the last 240 years. Women would not be allowed to vote today if it had not been for the protests of the suffragist movement of the early 1900s.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a master of protesting. He strategically held protests in cities where he knew local officials would overreact. He knew that violence against protesters would expose local law enforcement and city officials as being racist bullies. And he knew that overreaction would build sympathy and momentum for the Civil Rights movement.

He was right. White violence against protesters in the 1950s and 1960s led to change that might have otherwise never happened.

King was, of course, hated by many whites because he so effectively exposed such deep-seated racism. Especially in the South, institutional racism and segregation was often codified into the law. King not only protested, he endorsed civil disobedience as a way to challenge unjust laws.

When Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus in Montgomery, she was acting with civil disobedience.

Her action forced a city — and a nation — to confront the very real dynamics of how black citizens were considered second-class citizens, a people forced to sit at the back of society.

What is really amazing about the protests we've seen over the last two weeks is how multi-racial they have been. In the 1960s, a few whites marched with King, but most didn't.

That seems to have changed as more white citizens of all skin colors see the need to speak out. Silence is seen as acceptance.

In Jefferson last week, the mayor and two city council members, all three white, marched with protesters through town. In Braselton, the town's white city manager handed out fans and water. All across the county, white pastors have spoken out against the killing of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. Local law enforcement leaders, all white, have also spoken out against the killing and have worked to accommodate and protect local protesters.

None of that would have ever happened in rural Georgia in the 1960s.

Despite that kind of progress, there's still a lot of anti-protest sentiment among some white Americans who don't seem to get the message.

You can see that on social media where people have posted racist or anti-protest comments and memes. One local county public safety official lost his job last week over a social media comment when he said protesters should be shot.

You can see the anti-protest sentiment from those who attempt to paint all protesters as looters and vandals. Just like all cops aren't bad, neither are all protesters. There is an attempt by some to undermine the message of the protest by painting the entire movement as being done by criminals.

When you don't like the message, attack the credibility of the messenger.

Despite that, most Americans of all races seem to support the current protests. That should scare all politicians as they face the upcoming November elections.

The public is restless. The COVID virus, its economic fallout and four years of divisive political rhetoric are coming to a head this year. There is a deep current of frustration across America that exploded with the killing of Floyd.

His death was a tragedy, but the protest movement is larger than just one person or one issue. Today's movement is akin to the anti-war protests of the 1960s and early 1970s which grew to be about more than just the war.

This movement, too, could morph into something broader.

Just ask the British what happened in 1776.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers and editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com

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