Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A van full of optimists

There is something deeply disturbing about the decision to take part in civil disobedience, even when the action itself is well-organized and decidedly non-violent.  To intentionally break the law in protest is to declare openly the opinion the government has broken its contract with its citizens.  And once you have admitted to yourself that as huge and unwieldy a system as our federal government is broken, it is hard to have faith that it can be fixed.

I had imagined that once I got to Washington, the non-violence training session would be energizing.  Instead, I felt teary the whole time.  I had thought that sitting with a hundred other people in front of the White House would make me feel proud; instead, I felt sad.  Once I was handcuffed, though, and placed in a police van with 11 other women, once the van was bouncing us around so that we had to grab onto the seat belts that lay unfastened behind us on the benches, once our wrists were all hurting from the plastic cuffs, once we all got uncomfortably hot and sweaty and discovered that if you sweat enough, your handcuffs can slide around and you get a little relief from the pressure. 

Once we had all started talking about our doubts about whether what we were doing could really make any difference at all, and once we were laughing about how the sweet young policeman guarding us while the van was parked at the police station, seeing how sweaty we were, said sheepishly, “I would have left the van running so you could get a little air conditioning from the front, but I didn’t think you people would want that.”  Once all those things had happened, I realized that despite my undercurrent of grief, I was right where I should be.  Squeezed into a whole van full of people so optimistic that we, in one unanimous chorus, answered that young policeman: “And you were right!” 

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