Standing up to your government can mean standing up for your country.
-- Bill Moyers
"Congress shall make no law respecting...the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Petitioning the government and assembling peacefully for a protest is part of American life and is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is an important part of an individual's freedom of expression, as much as the freedom of speech or the freedom of religion. The Congress realized that the people could love their country yet disagree with the politicians or the bureaucracy of that country.
In a lot of ways, it is patriotic to protest. When an individual believes there is something wrong with the system and gives their time and energy in an attempt to correct or simply bring attention to that problem, it shows their love for the system. They care enough to try to invoke change. It is those that are apathetic towards the problems of our society or blindly follow the decisions of leadership that are truly the unpatriotic ones.
However, sometimes the boldness of protesters, trying to convey their point, can cross the line. Thinking the ends justify the means, protesters have been known to slander, assault, cause destruction, or commit outright acts of treason. These actions are not supported by the Constitution and are certainly not the way to go about bring change. These things are usually done not out of the love of country but out of hate for an establishment and, in my mind, are unpatriotic.
Though I believe most who attend protests do so out of love, for their country or for their fellow man, some are there for hate, discord, or selfishness. A perfect example of this was the WTO riots. Tens of thousands gathered peacefully in Seattle to voice their opinions on globalization. However, as we saw on the news, some simply showed up to create pandemonium, smashing plate glass windows, throwing rocks, slashing police car tires, and setting fires. These scalawags seemed to infect some of the legitimate protesters with a mob mentality and incited the riot.
Lots of other examples of this can be seen from the Vietnam era. Vietnam was such an ugly mess. But amongst the horrors in South East Asia, the manner in which protesters treated veterans returning from that "police conflict", as a way of lashing out against the establishment, was appalling. It was not uncommon that a service man be walking down the street, only a few days out of the jungle perhaps, when a war protester calls him a "baby killer" just before throwing a piss balloon. To me, throwing one's urine at another is quite possibly the most disrespectful thing one can do, aside from throwing shit I would gather.
When I see soldiers on the street I don't fumble over my self to be nice but I do offer them the same courtesy as I would anyone else with a civil, "Hello," or a respectful, "Good day sergeant," taking note of their rank, or maybe just a nod. I have not and probably never will serve in the United State Military but I do have respect for people who have chosen that for themselves. When it gets down to it, they're just guys cashing a paycheck. I am happy to see so many stating support for the troops in our military, regardless of their feelings towards our foreign policy.
When attending a protest or organizing a petition, it is important one keeps in mind the reason for doing so. It can be easy for one to lose site of the goal, especially when things don't go one's way. It is important that one always conduct oneself in a peaceful manner regardless of how the police or other protesters are conducting themselves. One should also make certain their actions are targeted correctly.
So go out and protest and know that you are a good citizen. But make certain you conduct yourself in a manner which adds credibility to your cause and integrity to yourself. And most importantly make certain your actions are motivated out of love. The Dalai Lama put it well when he said, "According to your own resources, and recognizing the limitations of your circumstances, you will do what you can."