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Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson reflects on anger, frustration that has led to nationwide demonstrations

Fifty years ago last month four students in Ohio were killed by members of the National Guard. There's something about images of those in authority taking the lives of those that are not that ignites us.

And last week it ignited a level of protest we have not seen in this many cities at home and abroad since the 60's when there was a lot to be angry about: lack of civil rights, women's rights, farmworker rights, and the Vietnam War.

COURTESY PHOTO - Woodburn Mayor Eric SwensonIt's important to remember that the thousands of widespread protests that swept across America during that era were about an anger that was even deeper than each of those critical and historic issues. It was anger about living in a country that allowed discriminations despite decades of laws and work by activist groups to end them; an anger that the dignity of some Americans was not being respected.

It's why last week's protests have happened in over 400 cities in every state, from Boston to Boise and from Mississippi to Montana. It's an anger about living in America's promise of equality, and not feeling and being treated equally; an anger women felt when they couldn't vote, that Blacks felt at the drinking fountain and that migrant farmworkers felt in the fields.

The only way to begin to comprehend that particular anger of course is to place ourselves in another's position. I think that's what so many people are doing now. What if I was on the ground with a knee on my neck? And what if I was on the ground, and part of a group that has less of a place at the table in society? Would I protest for myself or on behalf of those who feel that?

It's a question two WHS Grads of 2016 said yes to and then called to say they were planning a peaceful march in Woodburn. They asked to work with our police department and PCUN (experts in the peaceful protests field) on a march Friday at 5 p.m. beginning at Centennial Park. They wanted to express solidarity with people everywhere for people suffering indignities on the ground.

Khaya Mathis and Arzel Duarte learned about protest in their junior U.S. History class at Woodburn High when I was a principal there. They learned that protest in America is what has been the driving force that has pushed our country to live up to it's ideals of equality. Without it, laws and our society would not have been changed. We all owe the hundreds of laws in place to protect against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin, disability, marital status and sexual orientation to those who protested and advocated.

But still it persists. Today people protesting all across America are acutely feeling that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, as Dr. King told us, and that none of us are free until all of us are free — in this case free from fear, one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Four Freedoms along with speech, worship and the freedom from want.

We've been painfully reminded this week that 80 years after FDR's Four Freedoms and 50 years after Kent State, there is still much to protest against and to march for, and always more we can do to to live up to our American ideals of equality and dignity for all.


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