In the late 1960s and early 1970s, America was engaged in the intensely unpopular “Vietnam War.” America had joined forces with what was then South Vietnam in a joint effort to prevent Chinese-inspired “communism” from taking over Southeast Asia. 


This so-called undeclared war escalated through most of the 1960s. 


As the number of lives of drafted young men—primarily poor and black and black—lost in the war continued to grow, images about the decimation of civilian populations through a B-52 bombing campaign and civilian massacres by U.S. troops were broadcast on the evening news. Anti-war protests and civil disobedience engulfed America’s college campuses and public places. The nation was roiled in discontent.


Once again, America finds itself roiled in public protests and civil disobedience because of a “war.” Unlike the Vietnam War, which was an undeclared war, the protests and civil disobedience today concern Israel’s “declared” war on Hamas—a “terrorist” group as defined by America, Israel, the European Union, and five other nations. The focus of protests is primarily in response to the United State’s unconditional support of Israel and the over $150 billion U.S. tax dollars that have used by Israel to commit what many consider to be a genocide against a civilian population. The U.S. is the primary arms dealer to Israel and has sent more aid to Israel than any other foreign country.


Hamas, which considers itself a liberation movement, has admittedly waged a campaign of rocket attacks, suicide bombings, and what some human rights groups have called “war crimes” against Israel over the past three decades in its efforts to secure a free Palestinian state.


On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel near the Gaza Strip, with hundreds of gunmen killing as many as 1200 Israelis in several communities before taking some 250 hostages back into Gaza territory. 


Within hours of that attack, which was uniformly condemned on the world stage as a terrorist attack, Israel, for the first time in its history, invoked Rule 40(a) of its Basic Law to “declare war” on Hamas—a rare move because Hamas is a non-State actor. The war declaration received little universal attention.  


Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, immediately used the war powers gained under the Rule 40(a) war declaration to let the nation’s military decimate both Hamas targets and the Palestinian civilian population—most of whom had nothing to do with and did not support the October Hamas attack. As images of war massacres and videos of innocent children being killed and maimed, the American Muslim population began to voice both concern and protests against these brutal military operations, some of which have recently triggered a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court.


These early Muslim-led protests were largely ignored by the mainstream American media and the nation’s political institutions. However, as Netanyahu’s military actions became increasingly more brutal and as the American public, as well as the international community, became more aware of the Prime Minister’s military objectives (destroy Hamas and completely decimate the Gazan civilian infrastructure and population), the concerns and protests, especially on the nation’s leading college campuses, spread from the Muslim communities into the wider population. 


College administrators initially tried to address the protests with unilateral action and threats of disciplinary sanctions, but these efforts failed. The protests demanded that universities divest themselves of all financial ties to Israel. University administrators refused to acquiesce to these demands. The protests then escalated into the occupation of university spaces and buildings. Administrators responded by calling in the police to remove and arrest protestors in university buildings and remove living encampments protestors had set up on university grounds.


American police forces have a long, sordid history of responding to legitimate First Amendment protests with violent, heavy-handed tactics—like they did with the thousands of post-Civil War and early 20th-century labor strikes, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the Black Lives Matter protests during the first two decades of the 21st Century. 


It has been ingrained in police training to suppress legitimate First Amendment protests by responding with rough, sometimes brutal, overwhelming force designed to elicit compliance. This is precisely what America is seeing now with the police actions directed at the protests against the Israeli war:— against protestors who do not want to see their tax dollars used to pay for the bombs, munitions, and military equipment that Netanyahu will use to kill, even slaughter, innocent children and women in his “war on Hamas.”


These protests do not sanction Hamas’ October 7 attacks. They are not “pro-Hamas” protestors. The protestors’ concerns and demands are tied to the war crimes associated with the thousands of deaths of innocent civilians in what has become a senseless, unrestrained, and brutal attack on an unarmed population and civilian infrastructure. 


What we find particularly disturbing is the call by right-wing politicians, activists, and pundits to employ even harsher treatment against the protesters exercising their First Amendment rights on campus, who they falsely label as pro-Hamas or pro-Iran, while referring to January 6, 2021, insurrectionists who stormed, damaged, and occupied the nation’s Capitol Building as “patriots” and “hostages.”


These campus protests underscore the cultural and political divide growing in this country between younger, diverse progressives and older, primarily white conservatives, between the views of political leaders like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark). Rep. Omar supports the protestors, while Sen. Cotton advocates citizen vigilantism against them.


The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to all Americans to engage in peaceful protests and lawful acts of civil disobedience. Hundreds, if not thousands, of students involved in these campus demonstrations will suffer arrests, convictions, and institutional disciplinary actions for engaging in the protests. Scores more will suffer verbal abuse, physical injuries, and false allegations at the hands of the police—especially by white officers against people of color or their “liberal” co-conspirators.


America should never forget that freedom is preserved through ballots in voting booths and protests in the streets. It has always been Americans’ courage in the voting booths and their willingness to protest in the streets that have protected this nation’s democracy.


Americans should be thankful their youth still dare to protest. It is worth noting that while the students were exercising their First Amendment rights, delegates at the Republican convention in the State of Washington were calling for an end to “democracy” to demonstrate their support for MAGA Republican ideals. 


Washinton’s Republican convention delegates passed a resolution urging all people, especially Republicans, to stop even using the word “democracy.”  Millions of MAGA supporters are working hard to replace democratic America with an authoritarian dictatorship like the one in place in Russia.


That’s why Americans should reconsider the current wave of social protests on campus through an appreciative lens. Our youth are demonstrating the American conscience has yet to be put to sleep.