Opinion: It’s time to become uncivil

Published: 6/5/2022 10:02:24 AM
Modified: 6/5/2022 10:00:15 AM

Jean Stimmell, retired stone mason and psychotherapist, lives in Northwood and blogs at jeanstimmell.blogspot.com.

It only happens in America. Kids blown away in school while the rest of us get gunned down grocery shopping, worshipping or going to a nightclub. One hundred Americans are killed each day with guns. Since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2018, there have been 950 school shootings, including 27 so far this year.

Sadly, none of us are innocent bystanders, as Roxane Gay points out in the NYT. We are complicit for being too civil.

“When politicians talk about civility and public discourse, what they’re really saying is that they would prefer for people to remain silent in the face of injustice. They want marginalized people to accept that the conditions of oppression are unalterable facts of life.”

It’s all engineered by a tyranny of the minority that control our government, according Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College. Look at the facts: Republicans have won two of the last five elections with a minority of the votes. The senate is elected by a skewed, unusually white cross-section of America markedly more conservative than the average American voter; and the Supreme Court is dismantling one party’s political economic base while helping preserve, even strengthen, the other party’s anti-majoritarian hold on power.

Worse yet, since 2016, the Republican party has morphed into MAGA Trump crusade which has never happened before. 

“I can tell you that at no point in America’s history has one of the two main parties literally rejected the rules of the game,” Richardson says. We are rapidly sliding into authoritarianism.

The time has come, as Gay says, to become uncivil. But uncivil doesn’t have to be rude and violent. It can be respectful and peaceful, yet still staunchly unbending. The image that comes to mind is our plott hound, Coco, now sadly departed. She loved going hiking with us, with one glaring exception: she hated hot weather.

On hot summer days, Coco would hike until she was hot and then stage a sit-down strike. We could neither budge her by leash or doggie treat. We tried walking ahead, hoping she would follow, but she never come. Forced to turn back, we would find her sitting right where we left her. Only then did she stand up to happily escort us home, wagging her tail at our capitulation.

What worked for Coco can work for the rest of us. Nonviolent resistance has an illustrious history. Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign liberated India from English colonialism and Martin Luther King’s civil rights campaign. Today, it is high school students like Maddie Ahmadi from Vermont who are showing us the way. After the recent Texas shooting, she organized the first of a series of student walkouts that took place around the country. “Our lives are more important than schoolwork,” she said.

We need resolute resistance, leavened with theater and humor, like that displayed by the children of the 60s resisting the Vietnam war. I’m thinking of the 100,000 mostly young people who marched on Washington to levitate the Pentagon. That’s when the iconic photo was taken of protesters confronting armed soldiers by putting flowers in their rifle barrels.

As Abbie Hoffman, one of the organizers, said, “We shall raise the flag of nothingness over the Pentagon and a mighty cheer of liberation will echo through the land.”

Young people once again are leading the way with Ahmadi’s sense of urgency: “This didn’t feel like a time to ask for permission.” .

After the horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, David Hogg, a survivor of the Sandy Hook shooting, lead one of the biggest U.S. protests in history, involving millions all around the country.

His organization, March of our Lives, was not a flash-in-the-pan. They have continued to sponsor events like the “Road to Change,” inspired by the Freedom Riders of the 1960 to register young voters. They spurred a historic youth turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, with a 47% increase over the last midterm election.

We need to get behind such movements, and start our own, to counter these toxic lone rangers who detest, not only regulation, but our government itself. It’s a cruel joke to think we can survive as a nation living in a Clint Eastwood movie of fiercely independent cowboys, armed to the teeth.

Instead we are strongest, and happiest, when we are interwoven into a democracy, composed of a close knit community of mutual support. That’s what will last! In Lincoln’s words, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

David Hogg says, “Right now we are closer than we ever have been as a movement and stronger than we ever have been to actually” create positive change. On June 11th, March of our Lives is planning a massive march in Washington D.C. with 100 local marches around the country and counting.

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