The first time I marched, it was autumn. I remember sitting very still, cross-legged, on the basketball court, chanting HELL NO, WE WON’T GO, WE WON’T FIGHT FOR TEXACO.
Weeks later, Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm.
I don’t remember if it was raining or not. I do remember standing shoulder to shoulder with Robin and Akemi. I remember that there were more girls than boys on the basketball court. I remember that the local TV station came, and that I think we were pretty articulate in explaining why we had a strong moral issue with going to war in Iraq.
Most of all I remember taking a step back when the news camera came out.
“I saw you on TV,” my mom said. “My baby’s first protest.”
I ducked my head and mumbled something. I am not a rebel.
dilemma: di – lemma. a form of argument involving a choice between equally unfavorable alternatives.
My parents had already rebelled against society. When the sign said “long haired freaky people need not apply” it was talking about my dad. We lived in a town of 800 people, and about 794 of them thought that Akemi’s dad was owed nothing for the years he’d spent in an internment camp. To rebel against my parents would mean adopting social mores repugnant to me; to rage against the machine meant becoming my parents.
The basketball court was made of asphalt, and left impressions in my hands and my legs where I braced myself. Robin spoke to the camera, explained why a war was a threat to our generation, how there was no rational reason beyond corporate greed for killing young men and women.
I took a step back from the cameras.
I know some of the kids with us had walked out of class just to be out of class. I don’t know what moved others. I’m still not sure what moved me; I’ve never been able to explain it. That should be a warning sign: when a writer can’t come up with the words for something. When the cameras left I went back to math class.
And in the end we went to war after all, and it broke my heart.
The Gulf War became the First Gulf War, and then the Second. My mother wore black and stood in silence, wordless. I wrapped myself in words and walls of logic and disdain. Marching hadn’t changed a damn thing. Sure, the Civil Rights Movement had been built on marches and sit-ins, but in those days there had been incentives for the government to care what people thought of it. What was the point in protesting a decision already made by a government I had not voted into office?
Occupy closed down a section of the street I drove on every day to work. I went around, wishing that everyone pouring that much effort into camping in the October rain had waited for an election year. I wrote snide commentary on the effectiveness of pretending to be homeless versus giving your tent to someone who is actually without housing.
I went to law school. I learned the whys of the system. I learned that the system works the way it was designed to work. Take that as you will. I wrote briefs.
Trayvon Martin died. Michael Brown died. I drove through Ferguson in a rented car on the way to a friend’s wedding. The bride, drunk, called Ferguson “N**rville.” I invited people from the Internet to the wedding, offered them dessert to take to the marchers. I went back to a friend’s house and watched the protest on TV. I wrote passionate Facebook posts.
I put up a sign.
I built an Election Night 2016 playlist.
I deleted it.
I walked down the street. Not marching; the first time I marched was the last time, and my heart is already broken. I looked at the faces around me and I wondered. It has reframed everything, this election. Was it you? Him? Her? Who voted to put my family and friends in danger? Who voted for a world that has already killed children?
I am a writer, not a soldier. I was never taught to put my body between those I love and a world that most assuredly does not love them. All I have ever had were words.
My heart is already broken; I am out of words. What’s left?