Arlo Guthrie and the Protests in Wisconsin

Well, I made it to the Kent Stage Friday night to see Arlo Guthrie, following a traditional stop at Ray’s for a few brews and a turkey club.  And it was an excellent AARP hootenanny.

I know I need to be careful when I call Guthrie an aging lefty — since I don’t mean that in baseball terms. But hey, we were both born in the same year: 1947. Both of the generation that came of age in the ’60s convinced we were going to change the world. Not.

So I had to chuckle when Guthrie said that he has been opining — via his music and that of others — on the same issues for decades. And the issues — problems facing working Americans, corporate greed, the concentration of wealth in this country and so on — never seem to go away or get much better.

An example: He received enthusiastic applause when he mentioned Wisconsin and the fact that thousands were taking to the streets there and elsewhere to protest the legislation that limits the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions and workers.

Do the street protests really matter these days? Did they really ever matter?

I’m all for peaceful protests — which as best I can tell has been the situation at least up to this point in Wisconsin and Ohio. But I am becoming more and more convinced that the protest that really matters is the one that people make — or not — at the voting booth. If you don’t vote, it’s tough to complain when elected officials actually lift themselves off their collective thumbs and do something.

Saying all that, I understand why teachers and other public employees are going to have to take some cuts in pay and benefits. The perception, wrong in my opinion, is that they have it better than other workers in the private sector — and people aren’t going to support pubic employees as they watch their own retirement savings, house values, medical benefits and middle-class jobs sliding down the rat hole.

So Guthrie is right. It’s a positive sign that people are willing to get out and protest. But the important protest comes at election time.




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