From the Braver Institute
Driving through my hometown of Marquette a couple of weekends ago I passed a group of protesters on the side of the road. I am not sure what they were protesting since I try to be a good driver and pay attention to the road and not to what the signs held by the people standing along the way say. Since they weren’t in front of the post office I have to assume that the protest wasn’t political but then again maybe they were in front of some politician’s office. Once again I was busy driving. Who knows? Maybe they were workers on strike.
Anyway, this got me thinking about the effectiveness of most protests, or at least their effectiveness on me. For the most part they are ineffectual to me. My experience has been that most of the protesters I have seen or heard have been idealistic and ill-informed dreamers who just can’t grasp the big picture. Mind you, there certainly are and have been protesters who are spot-on and completely justified in their cause.
I can think of one time in my life where a protest had a direct effect on me. It was a protest that in my opinion was just and the cause was noble. It was a protest that I was a part of.
During my freshman year in high school we were required to take gym class. I have never cared much for sports, but gym was alright, especially when we could play floor hockey or dodgeball. These games provided ample opportunity to inflict copious amounts of pain on other kids and not get in trouble for doing so.
Usually we would do the same activity for the entire week, which was great when we played the aforementioned games. Of course there were times when we had to do other activities in gym, and most of the time things were okay—except for one week.
Like many high school gymnasiums, ours was big enough to become two gym floors. The bleachers were pushed back against the walls below the sports decks, and the partition wall which was stored in the wall at one end of the gym was moved into place down the middle of the main floor.
This partition wall was made up of hinged panels roughly six feet wide suspended from a system in the ceiling. The wall was folded accordion style and as a result the business portion of the hinges protruded beyond the otherwise flush plane of the wall panels.
Okay, I am wandering into technical details that are starting to seem irrelevant to the story at hand. I’ll try to stick to the point instead of getting into the mechanics of gymnasium partition walls.
This particular week our gym teacher decided that we were going to play racquetball and we were going to play it against this partition wall. Never mind that racquetball is played on a court with four walls and not one. Playing racquetball against a single wall was no problem and it was actually fun, except when the ball hit one of the hinges and rebounded at a crazy angle to some other location in the gym. Since there were several games going at once against the wall, there were always racquetballs careening into games they weren’t supposed to be in. This made gameplay nearly impossible and not much fun.
When we complained to the teacher about the situation, he didn’t really care about our dilemma and told us to go back to our game. It was the worst day of gym class ever.
The next day the gym teacher told us we would be playing racquetball again. Great. A group of us decided that we were not going to change into our gym clothes out of protest. There were four or five of us but the only one I can remember is my friend Steve since we were the apparent leaders of the rebellion. When we decided that we weren’t changing, others joined us.
On the gym floor we protesters sat down on the bleachers. The teacher asked us why we hadn’t changed into our gym clothes. Once again we made our case about how impossible and un-fun it was to play racquetball against that wall. This time the teacher didn’t just tell us to play anyway, he sent us all to the principal’s office. So much for our protest.
The principal told us that we HAD to do the activities the gym teacher told us to do even if they weren’t fun or possible. To not do so was something he called insubordination and the school would not tolerate it. That was the first time I had heard the word and anything with that many syllables had to be bad.
Ultimately our punishment for our insubordination was a polite scolding from the principal who then directed us to go back to class and play racquetball. Our protest failed. We lost. We slowly walked back to the gym at the other end of the building. Thankfully by that time gym class was nearly over and those who hadn’t protested were heading for the showers.
It was worth the scolding not to play, so we felt like we had a small victory anyway.
The next day in gym class the teacher told us that we would be playing dodgeball for the rest of the week.