March 23, 2008

My Five Stages of Protest

Something about today’s River to River March reminded me of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of death. Bear with me as I attempt to make an association of sorts.
Stage one: hope and optimism. I volunteer to hand out flyers. The act of putting my body in front of strangers to request they read something requires confidence in the belief that people really want to be informed. That’s the first stage. After being rejected in less-than-civil manner, and rejections start to pile up, anxiety sets in. The anxiety provokes a need to escalate some action to produce the desired effect. Manic and hyper activity is stage 2. I find myself verbalizing REALLY GOOD REASONS WHY they should take the leaflet. Stage three can be triggered by frustration at the lack of response or perceiving an air of condescension mixed with smugness as my humanity is dismissed. Standing with mouth open and arm outstretched, the “citizen” snubs me by pushing past. Stage three’s humiliation is not a comforting place. Stage four is about learning when to change course or wrap it up. It’s acknowledging the path has to change, transition. To recap: optimism becomes defensiveness, which morphs into humiliation, forcing reappraisal.
Picking up pamphlets and pieces of ego, I work to maintain a courteous and respectful attitude. But my good intentions seem crushed like roses under the heels of too many citizens who truly, conspicuously couldn’t care less. Callous deviants who appear to be human but have no heart, they push me over the line as stage five devolves into a harangue at passers by for not taking the flyers. I have hit the wall and must meekly retreat or find kinder souls to mingle with. The original bold objectives must be reassessed and evaluated for their usefulness.
While I don’t want to deny the negative impact of my behavior, it’s useful to acknowledge the ways in which the environment, context and stimuli affected my positive mind set and sent me into leaflet rage. It is time to go. I took myself out of the picture only to find myself in an incomprehensible situation: teenagers, college aged young people seemed to be on a wilding in Union Square! They were clutching pillows to their chests with eyes darting madly all around. Shrieks of recognition, or commands to come here, go there filled the park when once there was the sound of Phil Ochs’ “I’m Not a Marchin’ Any More!” The park was being taken over by the Union Square Pillow Fight. Stunned, I wandered into Filene’s to watch the spectacle, playing over in my mind the arguments of damming them to hell for being so happy in a world of misery, and being glad kids had a moment for a good ol’ freak out. Both feelings are valid and can co-exist. It’s just getting harder to find the balance. I end with Leslie Cagan’s parting words: in a few days we will return to Union Square, raising our voices and fists in the air when the 4000th US soldier will be killed in Iraq.