by Mitch Croom
If you have never personally marched on Washington (or any other power center), protested, or demonstrated, please consider the following.
Imagine you look different than your fellow Americans. You don’t have three heads or neon-green skin, but you have some subtle difference. Pick whatever oddity you please, and imagine that you and 10-20% of the American population also has it. That means 80-90% of the population doesn’t have it. Ironically, if only you had this quirk, it probably wouldn’t matter. But because you share this difference with several million others, your life becomes worse for no good reason.
You get pulled over by the police for driving your own car in your own neighborhood. You worked really hard, long hours to buy a Mercedes, and the police keep thinking you might have stolen it, no matter how many times you politely prove your innocence.
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You get asked what part of some foreign continent you’re from, because the person asking you heard that people on that continent also look/act/smell like you. They’ve never been there.
You get asked if you can speak some foreign language. You can, but if you admit it, near-strangers will demand that you translate random words to prove yourself. You don’t like that.
Maybe your very existence gets questioned, and idiots on the Internet correct the pronouns you use as if they had any idea what they were saying. You wish that didn’t hurt you.
And everywhere, all the time, the eyes of the majority follow you. Because friend or foe, ally or enemy, they recognize that you are Other. And you accept that, but never really.
Now keep in mind, all of that is the normal state of affairs. On our best day as a society, when everyone in a community happens to pull off one glorious day of not being total bastards to those community members who happen to be a little “different,” all of that still happens. And people of color, people with disabilities, queer people, women, immigrants, and all the other Others have learned to live with it. A day that includes nothing but all the aforementioned nonsense, and much more, is a good day in the lives of many.
Now imagine that instead, on this particular day, we made a man our leader who has promised to make life materially worse for many of those same people and their families. Imagine that an idiot came along who blamed everyone’s economic problems on people who share the same little quirk that you just gave yourself, with absolutely no proof or truth behind it. Imagine that he spent a year demonizing and scapegoating you, your friends, your family, and many others. Imagine that he surrounded himself with advisors who only fed his insanity, and that he has since promised them important jobs in government, where they have pledged to make your life worse even without his direct involvement. Imagine he’s rolled out a whole laundry list of policies that target you in order to make the majority feel better about themselves.
Would you take that sitting down? Would you let it happen?
You’re not a Senator. You’re not in the Cabinet. You’re a nobody. Some random person with a life and a family and dreams. You have exactly no power to affect change on your own. And the government, with not one shred of proof or valid reasoning, wants to deport your family or militarize your neighborhood police or outlaw your marriage. I mean, really try to imagine that happening to you. Can you? For millions of Americans, it’s their new daily reality.
In the face of all that, would you walk down a street peacefully, holding a polite little sign, and be content? Even after the government fails to listen to you and proceeds to do exactly what they promised? Or would you perhaps not be satisfied?
I would be furious. My life is largely shielded from the impact of politics, yet I am still angry. I can scarcely imagine the absolute rage that the most severely affected Americans must feel. And yet we sit on our high horses and demand that they follow Marquess of Queensbury Rules when protesting, to avoid ever causing harm. As if harm weren’t being visited upon them and millions of other Americans at this very moment.
In the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin, “Fuck that noise.”
When people come after your fundamental rights, when your ability to exist as equal members of a free society is threatened, you should ask politely for them to stop. When they don’t, and when the government either fails to protect you or is itself the source of the problem, you do not have an obligation to play by their rules. You can, and should, disobey. These aren’t my words. These are the words of the Declaration of Independence. You should not bow to a regime that seeks to deny your freedom without just cause.
If the government ever comes for my fundamental rights, I’d like to think that I would remain peaceful. That I could make signs and march in an orderly fashion, respecting everyone’s safety and property. I’d like to think that I could channel Dr. King and Gandhi, but the truth is, I doubt it. If the government ever stripped my fundamental rights away from me, tried to forcibly relocate me or take away my vote or physically harm me because I dated someone of a different race, I doubt my ability to remain calm. In those situations, I instead remember the words of a different American leader, who sounded a lot more like the Founding Fathers of old:
“It’ll be the ballot or it’ll be the bullet. It’ll be liberty or it’ll be death. And if you’re not ready to pay that price, don’t use the word freedom in your vocabulary.”
That violent protestor on TV that you so eagerly denounce? I promise you, at the right time, in the right place, given the right circumstances: it’s you.
Mitch Croom is a joint BA/MPP student at the College of William & Mary, where he studies international security, American politics, and civil rights. He is the current Senior Research Fellow at the Project on International Peace and Security, the only undergraduate think tank in the world. Also at W&M, he serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Monitor Journal of International Studies, the Chair of Student Life in the William & Mary Student Assembly, and the President of the Graduate Policy Association.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no institutional positions on matters of policy or opinion.
The picture above was taken by Andrew Salinero at an anti-Trump rally in San Antonio during the Summer of 2016. Courtesy of Andrew Salinero.