New Orleans       Living in New Orleans, the question whether to mask or not to mask, used to only happen at Mardi Gras, making it just a matter of personal choice.  Following the student protests over university divestment and an end to the Gaza war, masking has now become a political choice.

Thinking about this problem, I have mixed feelings.

Opponents of masking make some good points about protecting themselves from doxing and death threats.  I guess that’s worth some consideration.

Some argue that masking has become common for the students on many campuses in the wake of the pandemic.  To me, that seems kind of lame.

A protest crowd, where there is a mix of people with and without masks, seems kind of weird and a breach of solidarity.  Are the masked transferring the risks to the unmasked?

A Times’ article was all over the waterfront on this issue.  Reading the piece made me uncomfortable because it seemed filled with weak rationalizations.  One tried to argue that these protests involved more risk to the students than those against the Vietnam War.  Really? How is that possible.  If you stood up then in a campus protest and were suspended or tossed, you lost your student deferment and got a fast ticket to Southeast Asia facing in a life and death situation.  I’m not feeling that in any of these current protests.  When I dropped out of college to organize against the war, I went immediately to 1-A and stayed that way for years through draft physicals in Massachusetts and Louisiana.  You made your choice and faced the consequences.  Parental tongue lashings are a common theme across generations, but the risks still seem less now to me.  What’s the worst that might happen?  Someone might have to change to another school if they wanted a degree, or could simply get on with their lives?

When the reporter stated that today’s protestors have a “much more contemporary set of reputational and economic risks their predecessors simply did not face,” that just seemed like hogwash, but it was probably just something a young man with no understanding of history and social movements would say.  This is the fog of time.  I certainly knew I was unemployable, as did my comrades in struggle.  People moved to Canada or to friendlier states outside the South.  The Vietnam War was personal in America, not something over there somewhere in the Middle East.  The country was divided over these issues for decades.  Clinton was asked about it.  George W had to explain his National Guard time.  Many believe the division still lasts.  People made lifetime decisions, and, frankly, that’s what life is about.  Whenever I’m asked if I served then, I simply reply, “I served in the peoples’ army.”

The quotes were also disturbing, and I don’t blame the reporter’s naïve for that.  One student from Northwestern said, “If I give my name, I lose my future.”  Wow!  This sense of educational entitlement to a middle-class future is the kind of viral infection that could wipe out any vestige of a morality in America.

The respected contemporary historian Rick Perlstein has written several classic books that I have read, but here he offers that “…anxiety about achieving economic security after graduation is far more pressing. The consequences for identification and arrest are, simply, much greater.”  What poppycock!  Having embedded himself in the last century conservative movements of Goldwater and Reagan and hanging out now with the rich and well borne, he has obviously lost his historical prospective about those times and what people faced on the other side of the political divide.  He must be in the tribe, believing that achieving bourgeois security is what life is about?  Sad!

Another academic comes off better, unsurprisingly, because he was in fact a veteran of the other side.  Michael Kazin was clear when it came to masks and protests: “I do think if you are going to demonstrate, and it’s something you feel deeply about, you should be willing to stand up and be counted.”  Right on!

Not hiding and taking risks moves the American people.  Wearing masks fuels the cries that outside agitators are behind all of this rather than students taking a stand.  I get that international students risk losing their visas.  They can stay in the dorms.  If you’re going to take a stand, stand tall.  Like the country and western song says, “if you don’t stand for something, you don’t stand for nothing at all.”