In general, I am a pacifist. Intellectually I abhor violence. Personally, I’m unable to cope effectively with even the mildest conflict. At Bioneers last year, Lynne Twist asked us to decide where we stand on conflict, rating our reactions from 1: never engage in any form to 10: pugilistic, jonesing for a fight (I paraphrase, but it was something like that). I’m a 2; I’ll only fight about something when all other possibilities have been thoroughly explored and exhausted, and even then, I really don’t wanna. So no, I’m not a model revolutionary.
But… I think I’m just a little bit in love with revolution. As a kid, the movies that had the biggest influence on me were the original Star Wars Trilogy and Gandhi – two very different models of rising up to stop the evil tyranny of injustice.
To this day, I always get teared up watching a movie or one of my TV shows (there aren’t many, and since I try to keep my exposure to commercials to a minimum, they’re on DVD or Netflix), when someone gives that rousing “we happy few”-type speech. I can barely describe the strange elation I feel when Delenn appears just as the second wave of Shadow-allied-Fascist-Earthforce attackers are threatening Babylon 5 and she says:
“Why not? Only one human captain has survived battle with the Minbari fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else.”
The ever-so-hokey call-to-arms speech in Avatar has almost the same effect on me. Heck, even the war cries in Braveheart and Return of the King get to me a little.
And so do all those rabble-rousing songs by Muse. Invincible, Uprising, Resistance… not only do I enjoy the music, I am moved in some inexplicable way.
They will not force us. They will stop degrading us. They will not control us. We will be victorious…
Flip the switch and open your third eye and see that we should never be afraid to die. Rise up and take the power back; it’s time the fat cats should have a heart attack… – M. Bellamy “Uprising”
So with the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, etc., in part I see the inevitable result of the demographics: educated, technologically-connected, underemployed, under-appreciated youth – with food prices rising, growing threats of water scarcity, the end of oil approaching and the wealth disparities increasing… of course they get a little feisty. And as much as I’m ill-suited to any such thing (too afraid, too concilliatory, and getting too old), I envy them. I wonder if that spirit of resistance will ever appear here in the overly-cushy U.S. of A – if the need to overturn an entrenched system of economic exploitation and environmental degradation becomes so urgent, for the sake of a livable future, that the young and frustrated see rebellion as a viable alternative, and they decide to take to the streets and demand change.
And if that comes to pass, where will I be? What will I do? I’m not a warrior. I’m not a soldier. I’m not a charismatic leader. What’s my role, should revolution arise?
I came of age listening to punk rock (among other things): raging against the hypocrisy and injustice of the 1980’s status quo, but without a compelling vision of any alternative, only vague notions of an apocalyptic, nihilistic, MadMax future. As a teacher, I now try to stay focused on what a better alternative might look like. But sometimes I do wonder if the vision thing is just another opiate for the masses.
“I’m hungry for some unrest; let’s push it beyond the peaceful protest…” – M. Bellamy “Unnatural Selection”
But, honestly, I’m all about peaceful in my protest. I’m not afraid to paint a sign and take to the streets (I’ve had to do that more than twice), but I don’t wanna be in an actual uprising. Even verbal confrontation gives me the wiggins, so actual bare-the-canines-and-be-ready-to-back-it-up aggression is not something I could do, and not something I want anyone else to be doing either.
The protests of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were effective only because so many were brave enough to stand in harm’s way when it was necessary. They were able to lead those protests because they were that brave, too. But I’m so acutely aware of the fact that those kinds of leaders usually get assassinated. Closer to my own experience, there’s Dian Fossey, who tried to protect the apes she was studying and the habitat they lived in, and got the business end of a machete for her troubles. I’m not brave enough to face that. So does it make me a complete hypocrite to long for a leader that is, and to be so drawn to the fictional images of such courage and conviction?