Waiting To Follow The Worms
There've been some interesting political rallies so far this year...
I came of age listening to Pink Floyd's "The Wall." I even saw that weirdo movie version with Bob Geldof - the guy who would later put together Band-Aid and Live-Aid, and who we can safely blame for every musical cause célèbre since.
Neither the album nor the film were flawless, but I find them nonetheless poignant for what they tried to say, and to do. No one can accuse Pink or Geldof of lacking ambition, or shooting too low.
That's the thing about taking big risks when something's on your mind - you can't really know in advance how it's going to go. There's a fine line between clever and... awkward.
I’ve always admired the marchers and other protesters of the Civil Rights movement. Most of us do, I guess – it's pretty much U.S. History canon. Calmly pressing forward, singing songs of faith; riding those buses, knowing the mobs were waiting; or sitting patiently at the counter while angry white folks taunted and abused them.
They carried such dignity and confidence, at least in retrospect.
I’m no expert on the Arab Spring, but who doesn’t love seeing oppressive regimes overthrown by the humble masses? Democracy didn’t exactly triumph everywhere, but Egypt seems… stable. Syria? Not so much.
The Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. The Prague Spring. Various Vietnam War protests in the U.S. – especially those involving flowers in rifle barrels. And of course, more recently, #BlackLivesMatter.
It was this last series of demonstrations which started me wondering seriously for the first time whether I’m personally capable of something so audacious, should circumstances require.
I’m not sure.
I’d like to say yes. I want to be that person. Not a leader, not a spokes-anything, but an ally adding my tired old demographic to the mix.
I worry I’d do something foolish – say the wrong thing, bungle a moment. I’d never want to be an embarrassment to such a powerful movement. I also don’t like looking or feeling stupid, so there’s that.
To date, however, I haven’t been in a position to consciously make that choice. I just keep going to work, writing my little blog, tweeting my little tweets, and hoping in a few years I’ll feel kinda silly for overreacting to the events of the day.
But what if I were in that sort of situation? Would I even know for sure? At what point do you lock arms, set faces, and say “enough”?
I mean, Trump won’t really be elected President, will he? That’s crazy… but then, so was the suggestion he’d be taken seriously even as a candidate for more than a few weeks.
Even if he is elected, it’s not like the President can just start issuing Executive Orders to circumvent the Legislative Branch, or appeal directly to the people to do horrible things in the name of the very ideals they’re subverting… can he?
I’m being unreasonable, surely. My usual cynical, impulsive self - just darker?
The problem, even setting aside Trump the individual, is that his tactics are working. He isn’t the first to build his power on ignorance and venom; he certainly won’t be the last – especially now. Tyrannical and childish is officially a winning strategy.
Congress isn’t exactly known for being a bastion of reasoned legislative prudence, or a force for equity and calm. I take little comfort in the percentage of reactionary bastards who can barely see past the next electoral cycle or the likelihood they'll "check and balance" anything meaningfully.
It’s even worse at the state level. Where national office-holders tend to be narcissistic and exploitative, many local folks genuinely believe themselves. Even when they don’t, they can see what’s working for those who do – and Christian charity towards all God’s children ain’t it.
Even if Trump falls short, he’s broken new modern ground in old-fashioned scapegoating, fear-mongering, and demonizing by demographic. Facts don’t matter, American ideals don’t matter, and $#@% the Bill of Rights.
And we love it and want more. If Trump doesn’t make it, the next guy just goes harder and higher, and does. Until…?
I’m being ridiculous, right?
I’m told that more often than I’d care to admit – that I may have a point about this or that, but I take it too far. The hyperbole becomes absurdity.
This is one of those times, I hope?
Otherwise, what happens when we start rounding up Muslims, or Gays, or Mexicans, or Reporters? I’m in Oklahoma – the only thing likely to stop us from leading that charge is our proximity to Texas and how happy they’ll be to take point on this one.
What do I do then?
See, when the unthinkable occurs – in 1930s Germany, in 1960s Alabama, in 1980s Beijing – everyone has to make a choice. If you’re not waving your little flag at the tank, you might as well be driving it.
Silence is not neutrality. Inaction supports the oppressor, and plays for Team Power Structure. You’re in the dugout; at least be honest enough to wear the logo on your cap.
That’s what sucks about teaching history – you can’t escape certain enduring realities.
You can’t sit by while people in your party, who go to your church, and who speak on your behalf for a living, are categorizing or isolating real live human beings under a thin guise of good intentions and claim you didn’t know or it wasn’t you.
You can’t simply remind those of us losing our $#@% that the silent majority “isn’t like that” and negate culpability. The ‘majority’ part is cancelled out by the ‘silent’ part. It’s like having on imaginary clothes – it doesn’t really matter how nice they are, because no one else can see them.
OK, wait – this is crazy talk, right? An embarrassment to myself and the blog to even be thinking this way? Maybe this is one of those “type-it-and-get-it-out-of-my-system-but-OMG-don’t-post-it” moments?
I mean, I’m supposed to be building a brand here. There could be merchandise down the road. A self-published treatise on edu-truth. It’s nearly time to unveil the new logo – and I’ve ordered clever magnets!
I should stick to vouchers or learning styles or arguing with Alfie Kohn – that stuff’s great for my analytics. A wild rant about irrational parents or some crazy legi wanting to kill AP History? Those were good times.
I almost wish Barresi were back; she made it TOO easy.
I’m afraid I won’t know when it’s time. That I’ll feel stupid showing up carrying a sign, or chanting, or… something.
Oh god, I hate chants. I really do. Especially anything involving “2, 4, 6, 8…” or forced wordplay. I don’t think I could chant for the best cause in the world.
I’m afraid because I’m pretty sure I’ll say the wrong says and choose the wrong chooses and end up looking like those maroons on the news. You can edit blog posts for hours before posting – days, if necessary – but real life isn’t so gracious.
I’m not particularly afraid of being attacked, or arrested, or mocked – although history tells me it becomes much harder to be suave and collected once the bad things are actually happening. So, yeah - I’ll probably embarrass myself.
That’s no excuse not to try, of course. Lock those arms. Set those faces. (For the record, I'm still going for 'suave and collected' if I can manage it. But if not…)
What I can’t bear is the idea of going down in history as a small, anonymous part of a generation that let it happen again. Who stood by, distracted and willfully dazed, as the evil things occurred around and through us.
What I can’t bear is some kid a half-century from now raising his virtual hand during Self-Directed Multi-Studies and asking his robo-teacher if people back now ever really believed our own lofty ideals - noble words enshrined on such fragile parchment.
Why didn’t they do something? Say something? Protect someone? Refuse that command? Deny power easy access?
Why didn’t they keep their eyes open, no matter how uncomfortable?
Did they not know back then what happens when you give power to our darkest, most ill-informed urges? Was their comfort so valuable and their safety so precious that they just tried to pretend it was all OK… again?
I’m overreacting, right?
I hope so. Otherwise I’ll eventually try something reckless, and badly timed – and not at all suave. I wish I could do it as well as the folks in history books. But I’ll make my sign, and ready my personal affairs, and spit truth at power as they haul my fat @$$ away.
How can I live with myself otherwise? How can you?