Until this summer, I had never protested anything in my life. My mother burned her bra in New York City in 1967 in support of women’s rights, then marched around Manhattan braless afterward, an experience she describes, ironically, as “uplifting.” But I hail from the Slacker generation, a group of jaded navel gazers so lazy that our loudest public outcry to date has been the collective “bummer” mumbled the day Starbucks discontinued its Raspberry Mocha Chip Frappuccino. (Why? Why!)
Over the last three months, though, while protesting the management policies of my former employer, the Santa Barbara News-Press, I learned that standing up for what you know to be right is exhilarating. It’s also frightening. And when you’re trying to look defiant in front of TV news cameras as your kitten heels sink into the grass of the public plaza, well, it’s awkward at best.
What I never knew before I raised my first public fist of power is that, whether you’re torching undergarments or demanding integrity in the press, righteous indignation can be freaking exhausting. It’s tough, you see, to sustain both the energy and decorum required of a juicy and drawn-out public fight. You must be the very model of a sober soldier, though you’ve never needed a drink so badly in your life. You must ever endeavor to embody the morality of your cause, despite your gnawing inclination to say something truly profane to your direct supervisor.
Former colleagues of mine let their gardens go to seed and their bills pile up while they made phone calls to lawyers, collected signatures from subscribers, wrote press releases, distributed posters and hunted down sound equipment for our protests.
This tug between the Right to Assemble and the Need to Have Groceries threatened to tear me in two on the day of a major public rally, during which we reporters had agreed to stand in solidarity, wearing black to signify the solemnity of our professional situation:
My infant son awakes with a raging fever and drippy nose, making him unwelcome at daycare. My dryer breaks, leaving me to choose between two categories of black clothing — too wet and too slutty. I arrive at the rally late. With bad hair. And snot on my shoulder.
The event’s speeches — probably very inspiring — are drowned out by a continuous news scroll in my head that reads, “No food in the house. … How much is a new dryer? … Column due in two hours … Can babies get bird flu?”
That evening, while dashing through Trader Joe’s with my sick son, I am interviewed via cell phone by a reporter from another paper. I’m knocking food into my cart, shoving Cheerios into the baby’s frowning pie hole, and failing to sound profound or even literate when I drop a container of lemon yogurt on the floor. It splatters across my shoes, and those of everyone around me.
I am not noble David in the face of Goliath. I am Larry, Moe and Curly with a picket sign.
For me, the finest moments of the News-Press conflict so far have been recognizing the good company of the protesters around me — in the ribcage-rattling chant of rightfully angry readers, or the collective yelp and subsequent laughter of my fellow journalists as we ripped the duct tape from our mouths before heading back to work.
Now that I’ve experienced the unique adrenaline rush of agitation, you’ll probably see me at more protests: political marches, perhaps a sit-in or two. But I’d like to go on record as saying that when it comes to standing up for one’s rights, I don’t think bra-burning is the way to go. Protesting, it turns out, isn’t something you want to enter into without support.