ADV. #11/52: The Power in Protest
When I had a car, it was obnoxious. It was a little, un-souped Saturn SL1 with manual locks and windows and no stereo. It’s lack for frills did not lend it it’s obnoxious air, instead, the bumper, the standard champagne colored dent-resistant bumper was covered, bumper-wall to bumper-wall in stickers.
Go ahead and roll your eyes. I am certainly one of those people.
But I’m going to try and redeem myself. I didn’t sponsor any lame slogans. There was no prostelyzing about bikes or a God or even public works. There was, however, a very real agenda to my cars backside. There would be no mistaking my political affiliation if you were to see my wheels on the road. You would know I’m a Democrat. A Democrat who supports Democratic candidates. A Democrat who supports gay rights. A Democrat who supports ending the war. A Democrat, a Democrat, A Democrat.
And maybe I talk a big talk. And showcase an impressive bumper. But when push comes to shove I’ve been a lax Democrat. I’ve missed voting in less sexy elections. I argue about causes and beliefs without really researching my side and the oppositions side. I’d like to believe I’m well meaning, and I really want to be well meaning. It’s just… if I’m to tote around town all self-righteous like as a raging liberal (It would really have been better had I a hybrid), I should probably do more for the team, right?
So when presented with the opportunity to stand up for something I believe in, I thought to do so. To get in and get my hands dirty and invest myself totally to something. And that’s usually the issue – I think I can do it all, and a lot is half accomplished. I didn’t want that. And it just so happened that the city of Boston was mulling over a highly contested budget cut to eliminate ten neighborhood libraries. Worse yet, the president of the Boston Public Library was proposing these cuts.
I was enrolled in a graduate library science program at the time and the library world was in a tizzy. Job security was challenged, community outreach and safe havens were in peril, and people were pissed.
I was too, and spat about how horrible it was with a co-worker. He said he had a feisty organizer friend who could probably use my help. And this seemed a good a time as any, so I enlisted my services and tried to keep down the cuts.
Going against the city is a crazy battle. Not only is the likelihood of affecting change difficult when up against holders of the keys, but it’s tricky to get people involved. Hell, it took me a good 28 years to own up to my bumper stickers.
Andrea, the organizer, had a plan. There were bookmarks printed and literature and a banner and buttons. There was a Wiki and an excel spreadsheet of volunteer contacts. There were impassioned people in it to win it. It was such a well oiled machine that I couldn’t help but want to take part. It felt like a natural, albeit politically raucous, part of life, or something that should be in my life. So, I said giddy up and went with the wind.
So gearing up for adventure I decided to take part in a city-center protest at Boston’s main library branch in Copley Center. I have never protested and I’ve always tipped my hat to people that do. I mean, people are giving up their time to stand in solidarity. Sometimes they are crazed and chain themselves to trees, other’s have sit-in’s, stand-outs, but the fact remains. Someone really wants to affect change. And as I never have before, it felt a more important adventure than not, to me.
So I enlisted my best friend Brad to join me, and another friend Jane on a protest. Brad supported libraries, but hadn’t really lost his mind over the idea of ten branches closing. Jane, also a library student was determined, and she and I stayed up into the late hours of the night before making a homemade banner on scrap fabric to the tune of “Don’t Close the Book on Libraries”.
We made a rag-tag bunch, milling around the proposed meeting site of the protest, looking lost and unable to take a lead. But bit by bit (it took some time) more and more people arrived ready to march and chant. Because we had a cute banner we were stationed near the front of the still-small group and directed to march around the perimeter of the big institution only to conglomerate in the front and walk in circles at the entrance of the library. People had signs, big signs with more slogans. And we did as directed. We marched. We chanted slogans badly, out of sync, too quiet and unsure of ourselves.
To be fair, we were a gaggle of awkward librarians and Brad. This isn’t a typically riled-up bunch.
Have you ever protested? It tries your patience. You feel all eyes are on you, and the moment you get over that, you begin to feel ineffective. You may ask yourself why you are doing what you’re doing with no passer-bys listening, and others yelling out disparaging comments for fun. It may be because a protestor is an easy mark. So, yes. Patience trying.
But we continued to march. And children joined the fray. A mother grew irritated with our group inability to belt out a good, loud, catch phrase so she worked with her children to create a new one and roused the rest of the passionate protestors to join suit. With building momentum I felt less naked and more efficient and effective. I talked to people and asked them to sign petitions. We had real, prolonged conversations. And it felt good.
And this action inspired me to attend a Town Hall Meeting, which helped me to meet more people. Find more ways to help out.
I wanted to do everything and I wound up doing a bit more than the protest. But I’m in and not all ten branches closed. At present only four are on the chopping block, which still warrants another march, but is better than nothing.
At least it is a lot more than a rectangle sticker can do.