Tatcho Drom
Journeying Journals of a Jolly Journeyman

A Way of Protest

People have found many diverse, if not creative, ways to protest throughout the centuries. A few ways that readily come to mind are green-peace enthusiasts chaining themselves onto trees; individuals starving themselves; the devoted Buddhist setting himself on fire. And of course, we have protests that have literally changed the course of history! For example, the women’s rights protests by feminist movements from the 18th to 20th centuries. From this example we can clearly see that something positive may come forth from protests, to the point of changing society’s social structures, world view and traditions.

But why protest? Protesting comes from an inner drive most often grounded on the need for social justice. Protests often herald a human trait called Compassion. And when ethical codes are disregarded, and moral standards ignored, there will be protesters who will arise and cry for justice, compassion and integrity.

Such a need for protesting has recently occurred throughout Europe. On September 4, 2010, thousands of individuals have stood up against France’s Roma (Gypsy) expulsion policies backed up by French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. This policy and its modus operandi is reminiscent of Nazi regimes, as is reported, “France has attacked Viviane Reding, a Luxembourger and the EU’s Justice Commissioner, after she threatened legal action over Mr Sarkozy’s policy of expelling the Roma. She said it was a ‘disgrace’ that reminded her of World War II round-ups of Gypsies and Jews” (source).

Let us set aside red tape surrounding country border regulations; indeed, let us set aside sterile government policies. And for a minute let us consider that Roma (Gypsies) are human beings like you and I. Humans with human needs and feelings. Let us consider that Roma are parents who long for the protection of their innocent babes. Let us consider that Roma are young children who dread soldiers who come dressed in their threatening uniforms, bearing arms, expelling them from their homes. And when we allow our hearts to feel compassion, when we open our minds to human reason, we beg the question, “What is so wrong with allowing people seeking asylum to remain in our country?”

Whether it be Australia dealing with boat refugees, or America dealing with Latin Americans, the ethical consideration remains the same: It is unjust for a first world, well to do country, to bar its gates on people seeking refuge and asylum. For a first world country to bar its gates on refugees only broadens the unethical, and seriously harmful, “gap” between the rich and the poor. And this “gap” is being exploited by the greedy, who care not for the suffering mother and child, no matter what your ethnic background may be.

No matter what ethnic background, the gap between the rich and poor is being felt throughout the world. And Roma are no strangers to the gap, as they are one of the most persecuted, marginalised, ethnic groups in the world. Indeed, there is a history of Roma being a pariah to general society. Being expelled from a country is nothing new to Roma. Being illegal to even be an ethnic Gypsy is not new to Roma. Being murdered by a government is not new to Roma. What is new are the protests, by all kinds of people, from all walks of life, for Romani (Gypsy) rights. Like never before, society in general is publicly pleading for compassion for the Romani people.

On one hand, it is true that we may always have heartless people. On the other hand, it is also true that those who act on compassion will also abound. I’m reminded of a gentleman in history, of Romanichal (English Gypsy) descent, who cried out for compassion and the softening of the heart. This gentleman is said to be the highest paid entertainer in history and had a intrinsic influence on the movie industry in its infancy. This gentleman is none other than Charlie Chaplin.

Chaplin “is most recognized as an icon of the silent film era”. But the film I want to focus on is “Chaplin’s later film ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940), which was his first ‘talkie’, which created a stir. In the film, Chaplin plays a humorous caricature of Adolf Hitler. Some thought the film was poorly done and in bad taste. However, it grossed over $5 million and earned five Academy Award Nominations” (source).

I believe that when Chaplin spoke in “The Great Dictator” he was speaking as a prophet, that is, deep and inspired words. With apprehensions of leading governments turning into Nazi-like regimes, heartless and cruel systems, Chaplin cries out for compassion. Every time I hear him utter his speech I get chills:

In the light of the protests for Romani rights; above speaks Chaplin, of Romani descent, crying out for human rights. In light of Viviane Reding, EU’s Justice Commissioner, comparing France’s expulsion policies to World War II round-ups of Gypsies and Jews; above is Chaplin, in a movie based on a satire of Nazism pleading for the unity of all peoples. And in Chaplin’s own words, I end this journal, “Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers. [Let us] do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason.”

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