It was after my husband and I got married that we attended our first (and last) political rally together in the nation’s capital. I was from a very political family. I grew up in a household where my parents routinely sparred over politics at the dining room table. And because of my father’s profession as a U.S. Diplomat, we often ate with social and political dignitaries who had dissimilar ideas from my parents.
Side note: Please now picture my mother sitting at a table with a man’s harem.
Side note: Please now envision the conversation between my parents after the party.
My husband is from a family that tends to shy away from political debate and other situations that can cause horrible social awkwardness. Ever hopeful, however, I took my new groom, a tried and true mountain man (reared in the Big Horn Mountains of Montana) to a rally.
This is going to be great, I told him! This is going to be so … whoa.
As we rounded to corner to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Courthouse steps, a mob was before us. Hoards of picket signs and posters were hoisted in the air. People were yelling and chanting. Protestors were everywhere. Some wore costumes and put on a show while others stood more quietly. But just as it is with any group, any rally, any party, any gathering, it only takes one good idiot to spoil the fun and we found our idiot right in front of us. To be clear, a foul-mouthed, ranting, screaming, maniacal idiot who could not even make a convincing argument and I was already on his side.
Every group has this guy. The conservatives have the always inappropriate Rush Limbaugh while the liberals have the always inappropriate Bill Maher. The liberals have the always seething Sean Penn while the conservatives have the always crying Glen Beck. It all evens out. Still, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and wanted no part of that kind of activism.
On a personal note, I support gay rights. I have no issues with a good law-abiding, tax paying, honest, puppy-dog loving person wanting to live a different lifestyle than my own. But I also do not want to see a spandex wearing man screaming, “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” as I’m walking down the street. Nor do I want to see supposed Americans spewing their hate for an elected president, wishing failure upon our nation and being OK with the selling of military secrets to “down” the president so they could say, “I told you so,” later. Moderation, people. Moderation.
Somewhere along the way activism became a dirty word.
It began in the 1970s with big business. Through marketing professionals, aka, spin doctors, the American voice was quieted for the sake of the almighty dollar. They need look no further than the treatment of American soldiers upon their return from Vietnam. Although the Vietnam war was an unpopular one, most Americans supported the troops. It was truly the minority, however, who laid blame on the actual soldiers. But photographs depicting these renegades spitting on soldiers at bus and airports terminals painted a powerful picture. Today, the Westboro Baptists Church, a tiny congregation of lunatics, protest funerals of victims for no other reason to spread hate and sane Baptists everywhere cringe. The mainstream Baptists focus on food pantries, education and ministries abroad, yet look what damage a small hateful group can do to a name.
A more curious debate is that of clean air and clean water.
Having lived in nations where citizens have no rights, I more than appreciate freedom of speech. As the mother of an asthmatic child, I also appreciate the value of clean air. How could I not? When I learned that Ellis County led the nation with specific health issues that potentially stemmed from harmful chemicals, I questioned business practices. When I learned that benzene, for example, was a cancer causing agent and that Midlothian released more than 58,000 pounds of it in 2004, I was unsettled. In fact, in that year it was reported that more than 400 tons of various kind of pollution was released into the air, land and water, including over 1,000 pounds of mercury, 119,000 pounds of lead, 89,000 pounds of Toluene and 600 pounds each of Styrene and Naphthalene. And you wonder why you have skin rashes or have difficulty breathing?
However, when I spoke to a senator about this health issue another man said, “Oh, you’re a tree hugger, aren’t you?” For a moment, I lost my focus. That our bodies are being bombarded with toxins was lost on this poor man and he’d drunk the corporate Kool-Aid that it was bad form to question safety. Corporate dollar – good. Tree – bad. Industry success – good. Clean air – bad.
To question this is sane. Very sane. In fact, this kind of questioning is exactly why the United States was founded. In the news today, Egypt and Syria are only two of dozens of nations in upheaval where citizens have zero rights. I was not ranting and raving but merely asking questions for the health of not only my child but all children.
The reality is that each time a church is proactive in the community, each time an organization holds a charity 5K or car wash to plant a tree, supply books to a school or feed a family, this is activism and it is good.
There will most assuredly always be that one person in an organization, a church, a group function who has more radical (loud!) ideas than others but it should not diminish the cause. Nor should it prevent you from getting involved in your community or keep you from helping others. The question should not be “Are you an activist” but rather, “Why aren’t you an activist.” America needs you. Pick your cause and demonstrate your rights as an American to stand up, be heard, but remember the golden rule of diplomacy that your neighbor shares those same rights. Be heard but also always listen.
P.S. It really is OK to be a tree hugger.
Now residing in “the nicest city in Texas,” Alexandra Allred is the author of numerous books, including White Trash, Damaged Goods and the Allie Lindell series. Visit her website, www.alexandratheauthor, or Twitter @alexandraallred but always check out her column the WDL as she ponders all things Waxahachie and beyond its borders.