Tuesday, July 02, 2013

On Courageous Resisters and the Role We All Must Play

"I hope to be as brave as Bradley Manning."

"I want some Edward Snowden underoos."

"I want to be Wendy Davis when I grow up."

These are all actual comments I've heard recently. While I absolutely understand the sentiment - feeling inadequate or that you're not doing everything you possibly can to make a difference in the world - I want to challenge the idea that these folks are somehow different than us, superheroes who are inherently able to do something we can't. The current glut of superhero movies with their mythic origin stories reinforce the idea that there are the average folks and the super ones. In other words, if I haven't been bitten by a radioactive spider, or watched my parents be murdered, or if I'm not from another world, or if I don't suddenly have special powers, or if I'm not ridiculously wealthy, there's no way I can do what Manning and Snowden and Davis and countless others have done and continue to do.

When he first came forward as the source of the NSA leaks, Edward Snowden told Glenn Greenwald, "you can't wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act." 


But Snowden is also right that it often takes an individual willing to take a stand - and not back down even in face of personal and professional attacks - to galvanize others to action, to hearten those who had given up, and to inspire those who didn't even realize there was another option in the first place.

The now defunct organization, Refuse & Resist! (R&R!) used to call these folks Courageous Resistors, and would regularly present Courageous Resistor Awards to people whose names you know well, like Cindy Sheehan (for starting an anti-war encampment at then President Bush's Crawford Ranch) and Adrienne Rich (for refusing the National Medal of the Arts) as well as to people you've probably never heard of, like Dr. Wayne Goldner (for continuing to perform abortions after his hospital was taken over by a Catholic one) or Iris Baez (for leading the fight to end police brutality after her son was murdered by cops). The point of the awards was to hold up these amazing folks and their acts of courage, yes. But it was also to rally a community to support them. And to remind ourselves that any of us could one day be in their position. 

So, thinking about someone like Texas Senator Wendy Davis as a Courageous Resistor, rather than a super hero is a helpful move for a couple of reasons. First of all, it places her firmly in a (geographic/activist/online) community, rather than singling her out as a savior. After all, with super heroes, there's not a whole lot for the average person to do. Sure Batman has Commissioner Gordon, and Superman has Lois Lane, but when the battles get heated the "humans" are not usually needed to get the job done. And I have to say, despite media efforts to make her into a singular figure (even Rachel Maddow has tended to do this), Davis herself is always clear that she was able to do what she did because she had a community of colleagues working with her, countless women willing to let her share their stories, hundreds of women, men, and children supporting her in the gallery, and thousands more right outside the door. She's also really clear that when her filibuster against SB5 had been halted, and her colleague's attempts to stop GOP maneuvers were failing, it was the average people, yes US, who prevented SB5 from passing (and who forced the GOP to give up their attempt to falsify their vote).

Moreover, if Davis is a Courageous Resister and not a super hero, that means that we have something really important to do. Namely, we have to continue to fight, even if, and especially when, the attacks come. Davis can't do it for us. Sure, she's got a very specific role to play. But so do we. 

I close this post with a poem that has given me reassurance and guidance over the years, when I've felt hopeless or unsure of how to proceed. It tells me that even though my acts may not be as high profile as Wendy Davis', they are equally important.

The Low Road, by Marge Piercy

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can't remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can't stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know you who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

From The Moon is Always Female published by Alfred A. Knopf, Copyright 1980 by Marge Piercy

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