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Protesting Protest

It’s funny how social activists usually protest against the only things that have a credible chance of achieving the activists’ goals.
Craig Bruce

You can’t just sit around and make protest albums all your life; eventually it comes to the point where you have to do something.
Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)


My daughter turns forty next year (I got married at 11) and I’m having some difficulty accepting that. I’ve never minded my own age, in fact, I’ve always felt that whatever age I was at any point in my life, including right now, was pretty much the perfect age for me. But suddenly realizing that your little girl is about to hit forty is a bit of a blow to the illusion of immortality. Perhaps it snuck up on me because she still looks like she’s barely thirty.

I’m getting older.

There. I’ve said it out loud and for about the first time in my life. Now I’m going to have to admit that the grey hair at the temples and in my beard isn’t something that makes look distinguished, it means I’m getting old.

When did that happen?

I hadn’t noticed before. I didn’t even notice it when my grandchildren were born. I thought Maggie and I made pretty cool, younger grandparents. Now I’m forced to admit that I’m older than my own grandfather was when he died in 1965. Good Lord!

I’m not quite in God’s waiting room yet but I’m starting to feel like I can see the door to it from here or more accurately, could see the door if I was wearing my glasses.

I got thinking about all this because of a comment left on my blog yesterday by someone fed up with protests and public displays of angst. I did some protesting in my – get ready for it – youth but I confess that there have been times when I felt the same way she does. Back then (you know, before electricity was invented) we tended to march to try and end war and bring about racial equality through the civil rights movement.

Today it seems to be mostly about preventing pipelines and getting more free stuff or flaunting your sexual orientation. It usually involves disrupting and inconveniencing others as much as possible or going out of your way to offend.

 I support civil rights for gays and lesbians, for example, but I swear I don’t get the point of marching to flaunt your sexuality especially when it creates resistance for mainstream acceptance of gay rights. It seems somewhat counterproductive to me to be demanding to be accepted as part of mainstream society with behaviour that is anything but.

It’s almost to the point that I’m expecting some heterosexual group to organize a Straight Pride Parade during which middle class women will put on capris with high heels (very tasteful) and men will wear baggy shorts accentuated with sandals and socks. They’ll drag decorated patio furniture and gas barbeques down Main Street while old disco tunes blare in the background.

If that ever happens, it will probably be enough to convince me that I’ve lived too long.

But I digress.

When she was a teenager, I felt it was necessary to encourage my soon to be forty-year old daughter to be aware of what was happening and to speak out about whatever she felt was unjust but I never really gave much thought to where that might lead.

She was fifteen and over dinner one night, she mentioned that her class at school was going on a trip to Washington DC. She quickly added that she knew she couldn’t go and “wasn’t asking or anything” – she just thought she’d mention it in passing.

I asked her why she couldn’t go and she said that she knew that I probably wouldn’t approve of her going because she was only fifteen (I tended to be somewhat strict back then). I asked her why she thought I wouldn’t approve and it took her a minute but then it clicked in.

“You’d let me go?” She was almost breathless.

I said yes, why not? The only conditions were that she save some of the money needed to pay for the trip and when she was away, she was to check in every day by phone so that we knew she was safe and I could get some sleep rather than sit up all night worrying about her.

She saved quite a bit of money as it turns out and six months later it was time for her to go off on her big adventure. I was absolutely in turmoil inside but I’m pretty good at looking blasé so I simply drove her to the school where the bus was waiting, kissed her goodbye and reminded her that she was to call every day.

Counting travel days, it was a five day trip and I waited impatiently every day for that call. She was as good as her word though and sometimes called both in the morning and the evening until Saturday when there was no call at the usual time.

Nothing in the morning, nothing at mid-day and no call by late in the afternoon. I wasn’t actually frantic but I was switching channels on American television to see if there had been any murders, kidnappings, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, tornados, foreign invasions or anything else my imagination could dream up happening in Washington but there was nothing except the usual commentary about politics and a protest at the White House being led by Jesse Jackson. It was about then that I realized I had missed a message on the answering machine.

“Hi. Sorry I didn’t call sooner but I’ll call when we get back to the hotel. Watch the CBS News with Dan Rather. Sarah and I are on it.” CLICK!

It was just after six when the phone rang and there was my errant fifteen-year old daughter on the phone and – get ready for it – also on the CBS evening news. While my wife talked to our daughter I stood in the family room, my jaw around my knees watching my daughter and her best friend Sarah standing behind Jesse Jackson while he was being interviewed, both holding protest signs.

My wife passed me the phone but I was pretty much speechless so the best I could do was stammer in tongues and drool a bit at the corners of my mouth.

It turns out that the class trip had taken a tour of the White House and while they were there, they saw Jesse Jackson and ran over to get his autograph. He was quite congenial apparently, explained what they were protesting and invited them to join so – they did.

We shall overcome!”

My daughter was so excited on the phone that she was almost incoherent but all I could think of was the FBI arresting her and Sarah and deporting them back to Canada as undesirables; if they let them go at all. Even as I was talking to her on the phone I was mentally calculating the cost for lawyers in Canada and the United States, travel costs and God knows what else, just to get her home.

She got home safely, however, and I have discovered in my life that when the people I care about are safe, my perspective on life changes somewhat significantly. While I was waiting for her to come home, I was full of stern lectures to deliver when she arrived but when she did arrive and was safe all I could think to tell her was;

“I’m proud of you.”

And I am just as proud of her today as I was then.

Remembering that moment reminded me that it is important to speak up for the things in which you believe and those who protest today are doing just that. It is their right and it is something more of us should probably be doing.

I just wish more of it really was about real injustice, ending poverty and prejudice rather than demanding free tuition, health care for pets on campus or prancing around in arbitrary opposition to things like oil from friendly nations instead of oil from nations that suppress the rights of its citizens and which have no environmental laws whatsoever.

Too many have confused throwing public hissy-fits demanding more free stuff for legitimate protest. Others protest because they really don’t know how else to express their anger and frustration. I support protest – it’s thoughtless protest I oppose and there is too much of that lately. The simple truth is that protest for protest’s sake is not going to make the world a better place.

As Arlo Guthrie said in Alice’s Restaurant, “If you want to end war and stuff, ya gotta sing loud with four-part harmony.”

Protesters today have the loud part down pretty solid but too many are having some difficulty with identifying the real issues and the harmony thing.

If they and we are serious about wanting to improve the world, we need to learn to sing from the same songbook and find a better way than simply yelling at each other, blockading roads or camping out in city parks for little identifiable purpose.To paraphrase Paul Katner, you can’t just keep protesting and making noise; at some point you have to actually do something and I would suggest that coming together and putting a little harmony into that effort might not be a bad place to start.

After all, it works pretty well in music, so why not in improving society by addressing together the issues we all share in common?




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  • davurs

    Maggie, you are a curmudgeon after my own heart! Have you considered publishing a volume of your insights for us curmudgeons to dip into when the world is going too smoothly?

    • MaggiesBear

      I’ve been called a lot of things but this is the first time I’ve been called a curmudgeon. Compared to some of the things I’ve been called over the past few months, it’s lavish praise indeed. Thank you.

      As for publlshing a volume of my insights, I’m not sure the world is wating with breathless anticipation for it but never say never.

  • brad maynard

    absolutely Maggie!!!. I take exception to your idea of a Hetero Pride Parade remarks. LOL. I thought of that a long time ago only I envisioned straight people simulating sex, wearing assless chaps, and other sorts of general perversity…. you know, for equalities sake.
    love reading your posts. keep em coming.

    • MaggiesBear

      Maggie wouldn’t let me go out in public with assless chaps. In fact, I’m not allowed to wear them at home either. Maggie is quite proper about some things and insists that your pants have an ass in them.

      Thanks for visiting the blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate it even if I do have to wear boxers under my assless chaps.

  • Rosemary Grant

    Wow! You took the thoughts right out of my head!

    • MaggiesBear

      No worries, I fully intend to return them when I’m finished with them. :-)