Editorial: Protesters grab Sandy’s spotlight

National catastrophes have a curious effect on people.

Citizens across the nation, different in education levels, class and politics, band together as an army of Americans ready to combat any national disaster, political or natural. We experienced a community of renewed patriots, ready to defend our sense of security and democracy, after 9/11. When Hurricane Katrina unleashed an unprecedented amount of destruction along the Gulf Coast, people from all backgrounds donated time and money to Louisiana and Mississippi's residents who were most affected.

These types of disasters do yield another type of community: protesters. Superstorm Sandy drew protesters to Times Square to bring awareness to climate change and the effects of global warming.

Whether one understands it or not, climate change is a contentious topic that produces a variety of dissenting opinions. But what do protesters have to gain by demonstrating during a time of such turmoil?

Perhaps the protesters who crop up in times of national turbulence are taking advantage of the media coverage and free press. Fierce protectors of the environment who cannot find welcoming media outlets to voice their concerns discover a political stage in a catastrophe that citizens across the country are monitoring. Environmental rights groups are often niched within fringe interest groups. Such a monumental catastrophe provides the framework through which typically ignored issues are voiced and heard.

The same can be said of the protesters who arise during Christmas time, or the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrators who tactlessly picket military funerals. These protesters use Christmas or tragic military deaths as a political soapbox to voice controversial opinions. Christmas is a time when the impassioned argue that “must take Christmas back” from those who have allegedly either taken Christmas away from its religious context or gone too far with political correctness. The Westboro Church has built a reputation on protesting at military funerals to demonstrate against homosexuality, an issue seemingly unrelated to service-related deaths.

But especially with the Westboro case, is tragedy really the time for political grandstanding?  Particularly with Superstorm Sandy, is it a good time to scream and point with accusing fingers, “global warming” when loved ones are looking for their family members?

National tragedy can bring out the biggest critics in all of us, with people of all backgrounds providing answers to questions like, “What went wrong?” and, “Whose fault is it?” The culture of New York suggests that it’s a city full of performers and artists with messages to express and opinions to share.

No matter how one feels about the New York protesters, it cannot be denied that it’s a strategic public relations move. Whether their demonstration was timely or distasteful, they tap into the coverage of the tragedy and people are noticing.


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