September 29, 1980
Some people seem to think striking is an easy business. They think that getting up in the wee hours of the morning comes naturally. The only nature I got this morning is a pesky bird outside my window, twisting its head this way and that to give me looks as if it thinks I’m cuckoo.
Maybe I am. It’s nothing to brag about when I stumble to the pantry in search of coffee, half blind and certainly grumpy, stubbing my toes through the kitchen, closing, my hand in a drawer, locking my car keys inside my car I went out to warm up before I drank the still-cooling coffee, and the only other set of keys is flying off some place else like Cleveland, leaving me to somehow break into my car that local kids do so easily and have done often, leaving me to wonder if I should pay them a little to do so again.
Some people think it is easy to degrade myself by standing outside with a protest sign, smiling, while inside rage against the system brews like the ever-building hot lava of Mount Saint Helens. People seem to think we’re out there like beggars, trying to rip them off for money or some other valuable thing they have and think we don’t. They think we’re trying to steal what the worked so hard to earn, and seek to sneak passed us so that they don’t have to say as much, or tell us how little they actually care about any issue we might be trying to raise.
We live under the illusion that these people care about what we care about or would if we could lecture them enough, when they don’t care, and are more bothered by us than by whatever issue it is we’re trying to enlighten them about. We pass this off as a change in culture from the 1960s. But it isn’t. People only cared back then because it was cool to care, when it’s not now, and so they don’t.
But still we walk, and talk, and talk and walk until our feet get blistered, and our fingers hurt from clinging to the sign – which started out light enough but grows heavier with each passing hour, making us realize just how much work it takes to protest, and like all work for any boss, goes under appreciated, from the stumbling of a dark kitchen to standing on a dark street as dawn rises and the rush of cars flies through the gate we’re supposed to guard. We get no sick pay for this or health insurance, even though like protestors of the distant past, those are issues that are intimately connected with the one we raise today.
Many people think we’re being greedy when we ask for more money to keep up with inflation, or lazy because we accept unemployment when we are put out of jobs bosses want to shift overseas. We are condemned for accepting food stamps when the other option is to starve.
We dare not even mention the word welfare.
Everybody rips off the government from contractors to civil servants, but people get most outraged when the poorest of the poor do it – possibly thinking the poor are getting away with something people cannot. But when colleges conspire with business and government to rip people off, most don’t even notice. Or worse, glare at those of us who would protest that rip off, angered by the fact that our protest is inconveniencing them as we stand between them and the yellow brick road of college that leads them to the expected wealth beyond.
Some give us the finger, and – perhaps rightfully – call us communists for not getting with the program, and how we ought to appreciate that the college is looking out for our interests, and how we ought to leave the vision of future society in their hands, and if colleges believe we should all become business majors to feed the ever hungry, soul-chomping money-making Wall Street machine, we ought to listen.
And so we take their abuse as well as the abuse of a system that would cast us out of college because we refuse the mold the institution has chosen for us, a mold spitting out many of those who pass us during those long, lonely hours protesting at the gate, and though we like to think we are protesting for their rights, too, we really aren’t. We’re fighting for ourselves in a war in which only a handful care – which is always the case when caring is no longer cool.