Reflections on the protest movement

It feels like we’re back to the future as wave upon wave of protests sweep the nation and the world. People who feel diminished in one way or another seek targets for their anger and a means of expressing it, hoping that someone in power will notice and do something.

Although I was a tad too young to participate in protests of the Vietnam War or the demonstration known as Woodstock, I certainly heard and saw enough of those movements to see similarities in the agitation today.

Truth is, had I been old enough, I would have avoided those gatherings. I’ll admit they scared me then and sadden me now. Watching video of people just the other day chanting together in Atlanta is not only creepy, it is a pathetic demonstration of wasted time, energy and talent. Who so willingly falls in line with self-appointed leaders that give followers their lines? What is going on here?

It may be true that there are fewer opportunities available today than in years past, but I wonder. Opportunity aside, there is certainly less rigor in preparing oneself for a challenging world. What are these protestors (or any of us, for that matter) willing to do to sharpen their skills and contribute their energy and intellect to solving problems or creating new opportunity?

Steve Jobs dropped out of college and in a now-famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford University ( said that’s when he dropped in on real learning. He took classes that interested him and sparked his imagination. The contributions he made during his short life are nothing short of amazing. Did he wait for someone to rescue him from his confusion, misfortune or misguidedness? No. He searched and worked and fought long odds to create something he believed in.

That is the story for millions and billions of people who have created lives of meaning whether or not they became millionaires or billionaires and whether or not they ever captured a headline. We need to teach people that they have the capacity to figure life out. Adults ought to be aiding that effort, not wringing their hands over unfortunate circumstances or trying to bolster self-esteem through diminished expectations and lower standards.

As I watch “Occupy” scenes that depict squandered energy and talent, I can’t help but hear the voice of Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy when he said, “Some men see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?'”

Susan Marshall is a consultant and founder of Executive Advisor LLC in Oconomowoc. She also is the author of "How to Grow a Backbone." For additional information, visit Marshall also will lead a workshop at the BizTimes Get Smarter Conference on Oct. 20. To register, visit

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