This morning, students from Grafton and all over the nation engaged in peaceful protest calling for an end to gun violence, and thoughtful conversation among adults about how to achieve that.
Somewhat predictably, and unfortunately, their protest met the same shallow response from the alleged “mature” community of adults that all protests seem to engender these days, falling into two camps: First, “kids should be in school, period! Leave the thinking to adults!” And second, “the walk out won’t accomplish anything! I agree with alternate forms of protest!”
I admit my bias: the First Amendment is my favorite amendment. Everyone has their own. The gun crowd baths themselves in the second amendment, even if some of them don’t know exactly what it says. Civil libertarians love the fourth amendment. Criminals love the fifth, and so on.
But to me, it’s no mistake that when the founders got around to deciding precisely what was missing from the Constitution they’d crafted, freedom of speech and religion were first on the list.
As a writer, I understand that there are still, in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, thoughts and ideas that are too offensive or scary for people to be able to digest when force-fed to them, and too easy to ignore when they’re not pushed.
I think Americans in 2018 need to decide what kind of country they want to live in. Do you truly value the freedoms you claim to hold dear? Do you really want the oppressed to speak up? Do you really believe in holding people, and especially your leaders, accountable? Because it’s been my experience, through this space, that some of you don’t. In the last twenty-four hours alone, I’ve heard people call me a “loose cannon” and a “bully” simply by virtue of having an informed opinion that I share. There are many people I know who say all the right things about standing up for the little guy, but would prefer that the little guy stand down. Because discussing things that really matter is just so damned inconvenient. Tension and dissent are unwelcome.
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, directed to his fellow clergymen who had been critical of his non-violent civil rights protests, which he called “non-violent direct action,” Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in part
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
Dr. King’s words hold as true today as they did then, if not more so. Unless non-violent protest creates tension in a community, you will never get change. And right now, here and around the world, and on a variety of levels, the status quo is unacceptable.
Good for these kids for representing America’s most inate truth: freedom of speech, thought and expression, is the most fundamentally human activity there is.