I distinctly remember being about 6 or 7 years old sitting at a stop light in my mother’s silver Monte Carlo watching a group of men marching in a circle outside the main gates of a factory. My Mother started ranting how plenty of people would be happy to have their job and they just need to get back to work. She called them some names and said a bunch of phrases I didn’t understand like lazy, union troublemaker. I asked her what they were doing, and she explained they were on strike and picketing. She followed this information up with, “If I ever catch you picketing, I’ll beat your ass.” Being the headstrong child I was, I immediately started investigating why a person would picket and trying to figure out how to get in on the action. No, I didn’t necessarily want my “ass beat” but I was interested in something that elicited such a visceral response from my mother.
Fast forward nearly three decades, my mother (if she were still alive) would be happy to know I have never participated in a picket line or march. It’s not for lack of trying. There have been enough opportunities, that’s for sure. Since I saw that first picket line, I’ve seen marches for peace, AIDS research, the Million Man March, illegal immigration (for and against), women’s rights and most recently gun control and those are just the ones I can think of right off the top of my head. I still find the idea of marching for a cause intriguing. The act of gathering together in large numbers and physically making your voice heard about something you feel passionately about feels cool, hip, and young. It’s as American as dumping tea in the Boston Harbor. Yet, now that I’m older I can’t help but wonder if all these marches make any difference. Of all those marches I mentioned and the others I’ve forgotten, did any of them do any good? Oh sure, they raised awareness and if you are counting that as doing good then yes, they were a success. But, did any of these marches truly bring about change? The only one I can think of was the 1963 March on Washington which featured Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Even that famous march only brought awareness at first, the legislation wouldn’t happen for another year.
As for my lack of participation, there has been precious little I have felt strongly enough about that would require me to march. It’s not that I don’t feel strongly about issues, quite the opposite. I’ve made phone calls. I’ve signed petitions. I’ve ranted on Facebook pages and public forum sites. Over the years, I’ve written countless letters and emails to companies, organizations, lawmakers, and most recently my town’s transportation commissioner. I know there is strength in numbers, however, I choose to use my keyboard rather than my person when protesting. Although, if I thought for one second physically protesting would stop certain things from happening I would be in that picket line with bells on laughing to myself that my Mother couldn’t beat my ass even if she wanted to.
NOTE: Unlike my mother, I have never told my children they can’t or shouldn’t protest. I have told them to educate themselves and to know exactly why they feel a certain way so they can defend their beliefs if the need for protest arises.