My first peaceful protest was in 7th grade. It was February. We were celebrating black history month, and I was tired of getting yelled at by a substitute teacher. She kept yelling at me to sit down, shut up, and do my work… when that was ALL that I was doing. (Mind you, many of the other kids were being noisy and getting up and doing other stuff. She was picking on me because I was the only Jew in the whole school and with a name like Shapiro that she couldn’t pronounce, she wanted to practice saying it and telling me to shut up.)
I passed around a note telling all the other kids to keep doing their work but just to stand up on the count of 3. Would have worked too, if Sandy Canfield hadn’t laughed when she read it and said, “Who’s supposed to count?” I counted then, and half the class stood up. I got in school suspension for 3 days.
The vice principal, when I explained the story to him and told him that I was remembering Dr. Martin Luther King with my stand-in protest, he said that he hated what had happened but that I had left him without a choice. That I had left him without a choice. The child who was singled out by the teacher who led a protest that was simple and quiet had left the administration without a choice.
It’s a weird ass world we live in.
I was 17 when my father ran for general sessions judge. I was so upset that I couldn’t vote, but so excited to be a part of the democratic process. But on the day of the elections, the voting machines screwed up, and the election commission lost more than half the votes. The election was never held to a recount. Thousands of votes were lost, and someone who had never set foot in a general sessions court ended up being a judge instead of my dad.
In my first actual election that I could vote in, Bush vs. Gore, the president bought the election and there’s been plenty of paper to prove it.
People talk about how “might makes right” in this country, but it isn’t might. It’s money that makes right here. No one wants to die for their freedom because we all just want enough to live off of and to be left alone. Hell, the A-Team was only as badass as they were because they were renegade fugitives who had to stay away from the law. They did their work if you had the money and if you could find them.
There are people in Congress today who believe that there should not be Unemployment, Social Security, or Medicare. They stand in some sort of moral and financial judgmental superiority over those of us who stand in need of the very support that the government created those programs to give.
They huff and puff, thinking that their words do not affect those about whom they are speaking — as though being unemployed, depressed, and downtrodden, unable to work for your keep is a choice one would gladly take and that the self esteem of the thousands in need of their support deserves their twisted barbs. How delightful it must be to look down from so comfortable a position to taunt those who would beg for their scraps…
It’s like being kicked when you’re already down to first have a disease, then to need help, and then to be loathed for taking that help, and then to know that at any moment, Congress could take it away.
And to watch folks with money and comfort to talk about how brave Egyptians are for standing up for their beliefs… I have to wonder what they would think if the proletariat of America were to rise up one day and say, “NO MORE.”
I wonder if the children of today even know how, or if they know they have the option. It’s a bizarre legacy that we have given them over the last 40 years. We’ve been through a lot as a country, and it’s to the point that neither political party is trustworthy. Furthermore, our government has repeatedly been used as a bank to recover corporations (like banks and car companies) but it’s questionable whether or not it’s going to be there for us.
And the kids can’t help but notice that there’s a whole hell of a lot more of us “regular folks” than there are of Congress-people or wealthy people. When they see revolutions like what just happened in Egypt, they have to know that shit could go down in this country in a hot minute.
But we don’t do it because we love our country and we want to believe that we can make it work.
We don’t revolt because violence without a better solution is meaningless.
And we don’t revolt because we still have something left to lose.
I think there is a certain amount of class and dignity that we maintain as a nation, choosing to push our democracy to its very limits before we will scream for revolution. But we are certainly approaching its limits with wealth disparity and unemployment.