The other night I sat down and read a bedtime story to my daughter. It was The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and George Ford. The book details the life of a young black girl in 1960 who was ordered by a judge to be the first black child to attend William Frantz Elementary in New Orleans.
In the book, Ruby braves a mob of angry protesters every single day and ends up being taught in an empty classroom because other parents don't want their children to go to school with her. Also every day, Ruby prays for the protestors, telling God they don't know what they're doing. Eventually, everyone gets the hell over themselves and boom, integration.
My daughter asked if it was like what she saw while we were watching the news. All those kids being shouted at down at the border. I told her that it wasn't exactly like that, but yeah, it was pretty close. When she asked me why, I said the same thing that Ruby said to God; they don't know what they are doing.
So if you're bedazzling a misspelled sign and getting ready to go out and First Amendment all over someone, here's five things you should ask yourself to see if you are in fact an angry mob instead of an activist.
5. Is The Object of Your Yelling Mostly Children? As far as I can tell, never in recorded history has a group of people yelling at kids ever been considered to have been in the right by later generations. I don't care if it's a bunch of adorable little towheaded Hitler Youth or the Future Black Panthers of America. If you are actively screaming at members of a group that can't purchase tickets to a PG-13 movie, consider your motives or other means.
4. Is Your Group Homogenous? Here's a not-quite truism; Justice draws diversity, bullies draw like. If you look around you and everyone around you is the same color, religion, or basic economic background there might be problem. Maybe not, especially in the early stages of a movement, but most of the photos throughout history showing groups that protested for progress tend to display a wider cut of the cultural cloth.
3. Is Your Object to Frighten or Shame Others? There's a reason Pride parades and things of that nature endure. It's because people organized with a desire to better their position, celebrate the progress made, or speak out positively about the struggle towards equality makes folks feel good. Hate is a crappy substitute for that, but it can still be addictive. When your object is to, say, frighten women away from an abortion clinic and you cheer when they run away in shame and terror, that's not positive change. That's mob rule.
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2. Will Justice be Served if You Get Your Way? To consider the situation down at the border again, what is the final outcome when you drive away a school bus full of kids that have traveled thousands of miles looking for safety and shelter? Sure, the law preventing illegal immigration is upheld, but is the spirit of justice? What would Batman do? He would not come up to the border in the Batmobile and stand there striking fear into the hearts of the criminals, and frankly I think we ought to let Batman be our spiritual guide in matters like these.
1. Are You Fighting Against Those With Less Power Than You? This is the definition at its simplest. The people before you that you are waving signs and shouting slogans at... are they in a better or worse position than you? Do they have fewer rights and options than you currently do? Are they in danger?
Throughout history the story of justice has been the oppressed rising up to stand, and the bad guys have always been those that seek to keep people beneath them. They have reasons; of course they always have such lovely reasons. Make no mistake, though, when you stand between someone getting healthcare, an education, the right to get married, the right to fair pay, or any other thing that you currently have, you are standing on the wrong side of the line.
Cross over, won't you?