How Power Confronts Dissent
Note: I’m writing this post in response to circumstances of which I’m a part, but it’s not really about me. I’m living the dream and daily thankful for the support of the #11FF and beyond.
I confess that I’m developing a certain defensiveness, however, on behalf of others who have done far more good than myself and pay a greater ongoing price for daring to question power. If, after reading this, you wish to express dissent, please direct it to me. If you’re interested in offering support, please offer it to them.
It seems the proverbial “teacher caucus” has ruffled a few entrenched feathers here and there across the state. That’s a good sign – it means we’re vocal enough that the powers-that-be are concerned. They don't all represent the same sorts of power - some already hold office, while others have social sway or the backing of the usual slew of out-of-state fiscal overlords.
A few are all-of-the-above.
The means of their pushback, however, are a lesson in how power responds to dissent – especially when that power is unable or unwilling to simply silence or crush the dissenters. As a history teacher I can’t help but look for larger themes – it’s a change and continuity over time thing, I’m afraid.
So I command every student under my sway this July (all zero of you) to pull up a chair and prepare to be indoctrinated as we explore the tactics utilized, in hopes we might become more aware of these same themes when expressed elsewhere in history or across our lives.
The most glaring element of the backlash so far, and the one I found most surprising (although there’s no reason it should have been), is that power rarely addresses the actual substance or specifics of the dissent.
I’ve been called names and assigned nefarious roles (“spewing antichrist venom” is by far my favorite, although “vitriol and obscenities” is still golden). My writing has been criticized in general ways, but without reference to any particular POINT those expressing their horror consider incorrect.
In other words, I literally can’t get anyone to tell me - in the midst of their sputtering outrage - what they think I got wrong. It’s really rather bizarre.
Each time I’ve become aware of a candidate or associated minions protesting that they’ve been misconstrued, or at least misunderstood, I’ve reached out to them with offers of adding their comments to my original post, or letting them write their own. If nothing else, tell me which parts I need to correct.
I mean, I may be a bit snarky, but I do try to get my facts straight.
So far, a total of zero have ever taken me up on that offer.
The OPE list of candidate recommendations (i.e., the ‘Apple List’) created quite a stir as well. Numerous candidates, when the list was first posted, contacted members of this vulgar cabal of ours to ask if perhaps they, too, might be considered for an ‘apple’. I replied to several, as did others, with the exact same guidelines we used for everyone else.
Keep in mind, there are a LOT of people running for office this time around. There are more candidates than there are countries in the world, and that’s AFTER last month’s primaries shaved the total significantly.
Many of these political hopefuls responded professionally, some even politely, and the list evolved a bit as new information was added and new arguments considered. That’s how the academic world is supposed to work – you present a position with your supporting evidence, it’s challenged with new evidence, and over time the position is refined.
There are always a few, however, simply unable or unwilling to go to such trouble. They then become the most vocal complainers without ever addressing the simplest heart of the issue – do they meet or have they attempted to establish their qualifications to be on the list?
Even if they don’t lead with it, you’d think it would at least come up at some point in their tirades, yes? But not so much.
Which. Specific. Part. Do. You. Think. Is. Incorrect?
The second element of the backlash worth noting is the prominence of innuendo and suspicion cast on the dissenters – again completely without reference to the content of the dissent.
Rick Cobb has opinions! Horrifying words about things using descriptors and tone! And he works for a SCHOOL! How is that ALLOWED?!
Rob Miller disagreed with ME about something! And he’s within 100 yards of young people almost ALL DAY LONG! Is there no GOD?!
It’s a given at this point that anyone whose panties are in righteous wad over anything #oklaed-ish will immediately decry our right to have social or political opinions outside the school day. We are corrupt, brainwashing potentates using our positions of power and influence over young people to steer them into godless socialism and sexual deviancy.
If only I could use this same dominance to get them to do their assigned reading once in a while.
Corporations have a right to unlimited fiscal control of political speech. Churches may preach political advocacy as part and parcel of the very Word of God. State funds, collected from citizens of all makes and models, should be funneled into further isolating and uber-educating the chosen offspring of upper-middle-class evangelicals. And of course, a granite monument to the days of Christ-less wrath and judgment simply MUST secure a permanent home on Capitol grounds as a warning to those who remain.
But those public school teachers who think we should vote to protect public education, well – that’s just crossing some lines! We don’t pay them the lowest salary in the nation to think or care, dammit! Opinions are for people with real jobs, like pastors or legislators.
At no point does power actually argue with anything we’re saying, you understand; it instead perpetually seethes that we claim the right to say anything at all.
The third element common to power’s assault on dissent is the targeting of those thought to be most individually vulnerable. I’m bemused more than distraught at what various demagogues or ideologues have to say about me. (Honestly, I thought they’d have done better by now.) Others in the mix have been doing this so long they’ve developed an immunity to most of the reindeer games.
But power likes to intimidate without overtly threatening. Take the purely hypothetical example of a car parked across the street from a single mom every night for two weeks, beginning the day she's announced as "Undesirable #1" on several groups' "enemies lists." The unknown occupant merely watches without ever approaching her door. No laws have been broken, no threats issued - but she stops letting her kids play outside. She worries about her pets while she's at work. She's strong, but she feels it.
I know it sounds rather melodramatic, but power likes where it is. Power believes it has a right to be there, and you don’t. Power claims the moral high ground, and from way up there can hardly be held to the same rules as us commoners.
Finally, power strikes and retreats into its own little “safe zones.” The accusations and innuendo don’t come in the comment sections of our blogs or other publicly accessible sites. They circulate in the protected corners of their own echo-chambers, where none may challenge them. Occasionally it leaks out through an incontinent editorial or summons a fauxlicious press conference, but mostly it inbreeds and deforms as it grows less and less coherent.
Most of us welcome clarification, explanation, even disagreement. Instead, power hides and blocks and accuses. It’s really rather nasty sometimes. It's like we all woke up as recurring minor characters on guilty pleasure T.V.
So here’s my open challenge, or offer, or whatever you wish to call it (although it’s really not new at all):
If you think I’m mistaken about a candidate, or a sitting legislator, or a policy position, you are welcome to comment on the relevant post. As long as you’re not obscene or threatening to anyone, I won’t censor or delete it. If you need a longer format, I’ll give you a guest blog slot. Share what’s on your mind. Again, you’ll have to moderate yourself in terms of overt ugliness towards those I hold dear, but you’re welcome to criticize me all you like or the ‘teacher caucus’ as an entity to your darkened heart’s content.
I’d prefer to limit this to state issues and state candidates unless you persuade me otherwise. I’ve already let myself get too sidetracked by national madness and it makes me tired, and with far less to show for it.
Of course, those of you who agree with me are welcome to do the same. The only difference is, you’d be allowed to include clip art.
Otherwise - and I mean this sincerely...