On Protests and Challenging Beliefs

Dear son,

The unique moment in time you were born was one of civil and social unrest in the United States.

I’m not going to bore you here (too much) with the particulars. By the time you read this, sometime in your early teen years, I imagine, I have no doubt you’ve heard and read plenty about the late-2010s. I’m sure your mom and I have gone on and on about it. As I write this in late January of 2017, it’s my hope that by now when your mom and I do bring it up, it elicits merely an eye roll out of you. I hope you can’t imagine what the big deal was and why the future – your future – seemed so scary then, when really, it turned out to be just a rough couple of years before the country made a much-needed course correction.

That’s my hope.

This past weekend was a presidential inauguration more sparsely attended than any in recent memory, followed by a day of protests, not just in the U.S. but throughout the entire world, against the man sworn into the presidency. There were many reasons to protest this man, but the main purpose of these this weekend was to point out his constant denigrating comments about women, and the multiple accusations of sexual assault against women, before and during his candidacy. The protests were to speak against his promises to reverse women’s rights that have been established for over 40 years.

About women and treating them with the respect they deserve: That is an important topic in and of itself, one I’m sure we’ve had many talks about already, and one I’ll write more about in a later entry.

(This is where I like to imagine you rolling your eyes at me as you read this, because yes, we’ve had these talks, and you know that you know how to behave properly and I should just chill out about it, and dad, really, no one uses the phrase ‘chill out’ anymore.)

Anyway.

As of this writing, those protests were the largest of its kind in American history. They were necessary and important. But here’s a fact of life that comes with every such protest: there are going to those who dismiss them and the people taking part in them. There will be those who find their participants unreasonable, or silly, whiners or sore losers.

Son, I used to be one of these people.

In the early 2000s, another unpopular president started an unpopular war with another country. In these years, I was on my way to becoming liberal, but still, I had a more or less conservative mindset. I was “pro-life” (you know why I put that term in quotation marks, don’t you?) I watched Fox News, and particularly, enjoyed Bill O’Reilly. I wasn’t solidly in favor of the war, but I didn’t see why people were so upset by it. There were protests.

I was acting in a touring children’s theater at the time. One of my fellow actors was a guy named Mike, very much a liberal. We were talking about the war and these protests one day, in a van on our way to some town in Kentucky or Tennessee, and I dismissed the protests and their participants with some glib comments. “Sure, go ahead and protest if it makes you feel like you’re doing something, but what are you really accomplishing?”

Mike gave me sort of a withering look, almost one of pity. Here’s what the look said: “You don’t get it. I hope you do someday.”

The conversation didn’t stop there. He gently chipped away at why I felt that way. We had a lot of conversations like that over the next few months working together. I would have gotten there eventually, I think, but our conversations helped bring me around to a more liberal – more open – frame of mind a lot faster.

Mike and I largely fell out of contact when I moved to Chicago, but I value the friendship we had for those couple of years a great deal. We are still connected on social media. He posted some words this past weekend recounting similar conversations he’s had with others with different viewpoints over the years, and the importance in having those civil conversations. I was just one of a number of people he helped nudge to a different way of thinking.

Three things I’d like you to understand:

  1. Peaceful protests are an essential part of society. They are tools for minorities and disenfranchised voices to be heard. Every important movement our country’s last 60 plus years have been accompanied by them – the civil rights movements of the 1960s, women’s rights, LGTBQ rights. They are necessary.
  2. When protests happen and you, at first, can’t understand why, it costs you absolutely nothing to hold your tongue, open your ears, and listen to what people have to say. Ridicule and mockery only reveal your ignorance, at best, and at worst, hatred you hold in your heart. The only good that can come from speaking prematurely against something you don’t understand is having someone like Mike who will have the patience to challenge you, nudge you in the right direction, and not dismiss you as a lost cause.
  3. When you encounter someone like the me I was in my early-20s, someone who mocks those who feel the need to speak out against what they perceive as injustice, it is not your responsibility to change how they think. But if you decide to try, don’t bludgeon the person with all the reasons they are wrong. (I have to admit, I struggle with this.) Instead, ask questions. Make small observations. Slowly chip away at their thinking process. Also, know that while not impossible, this is much more difficult to do online, where rules of decorum and civility all too often go out the window quickly.

***

It is often observed that people are often liberal in the youth and get more conservative as they get older. I consider myself as liberal as liberal can be, but there may come a time when I begin shifting (back) to a more conservative mindset. If and when that happens, come at me. Challenge me. Chip away at me. And when you think I can’t get anymore frustrated, show me this letter.

It will piss me off, but I will love you for it.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s