Freedom Riders have theme in common with Arab Spring

This week Dick, a reader-friend, sent me YouTube videos of Joan Baez and Janis Joplin singing “Me and Bobby McGee.” Their renditions are very different. Baez is melodic and musical while Joplin tears at my emotions.

At any rate, I have been thinking about freedom and what it means to different people. This month and next mark the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders, the CORE (Congress of racial Equality) inspired bus trip taken by about 15 people, black and white, young and old, men and women who got on buses to peacefully — by riding together on a bus — protest the unconstitutional custom/mandate in most southern states that designated the back of the bus for blacks, as well as separate drinking fountains, bathrooms, etc., etc., The Supreme Court had ruled, in 1946 and again in 1960 that this segregation on interstate buses and trains was illegal in the United States. But Jim Crow laws still persisted in many Southern states and transgressors were considered criminals.

Now, 50 years later there is what is being called the “Arab Spring.” In the Middle East where ordinary people, educated and illiterate, young and old, men and women, have come together to peacefully protest their own lack of freedom, asking for rights that their governments give lip service to but do not practice.

When the Freedom Riders were attacked at every stop in the South, it was mainly their fellow Americans who beat them with whatever they had, including iron pipes. They even set fire to one bus and blocked the door in an attempt to kill them all. The town and state police generally stood by or even aided the infuriated full-rights citizens until the White House stepped in.

In all of the countries, except Libya, so far, the protesters have been peaceful. It is the governments and their police and armies that have been violent against the protesters. There are those who support their governments, but they usually have not joined in the violence.

Listening to some of those who participated in the Freedom Rides, the same theme is played that is being played today. They felt that without their freedom they had nothing else worth having, not even their lives. The same holds today in the Middle East.

There have been protests in Costa Rica, even marches blocking the streets of San Jose. The only one I experienced close hand several years ago was women marching (in vain) to end violence against women.

Usually the protests have been by interest groups – unions, students, government workers, taxi drivers, street vendors, etc. For the most part, in the past 50 years, demonstrations have been without violence either from the protesters or the government. But there have been incidents in Costa Rican history of police and government violence against its citizens. There have been no recent mass uprisings of people fighting for freedom.

Finally, in the States, the more privileged people who saw the injustice against the protesters joined them, creating what you might call a critical mass. Then things began to change. Perhaps it is only when those who are free join those who are not, does change occur.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, most of the noisy gatherings in the streets and parks are pretty happy occasions — fiestas, concerts, and national anniversaries.

Just as I have stopped muttering about the lights and fireworks coming from the stadium in Parque Sabana, last night as I sat in my bedroom trying to watch the evening news, I was assailed with cheers, applause and roars that could come only from a nearby stadium. I ran to my office window to glare at the new stadium. All was quiet and dark. Puzzled, I went back to my room, and then I saw the arch of lights over Saprissa Stadium, several miles away. Of course, it takes a fútbol match to bring out the roars of protest and approval today. I hope it stays that way, even though I am sandwiched between the two stadiums.

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