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My first act of civil disobedience


My mother had done something unreasonable, at least in the eyes of a six-year-old.

 "No fair!" I said to myself. 

 The details of her offense are lost to me now.  All I remember is my response.

I had been brought up to speak my mind.  To challenge authority.  Just as long as I did it with words.  Politely.  And kept my voice down.

So I made up a few pretend election posters and tacked them up around the house.

On top: The first candidate:  BLAIR.  With a box to fill in,  beside the name.   

"YES" I wrote, in big bold letters, beside my name.

Below, the name of the opposing candidate:  MOM  

"NO" I wrote, in the blank box.

That would show her.


I don't remember any more details than that.  

I was the oldest child.  A Good Girl.  Close to my mother.  I doubt her offense was serious.  Maybe she suggested I clean my room before I curled up with a book.  

My parents' response to my protest?  I don't recall that either.  But I know it would not have been punitive.   Probably indulgent laughter, along with pride at my verbal precocity. 


As a protester, I haven't evolved too far beyond that, even though I came of age in the turbulent 1960s.  

Oh, I've spoken up. Written letters and signed petitions.  I have participated in any number of antiwar demonstrations.   But the peace marches are always organized.  Permits have been arranged.  Most people are orderly.  I know I am.    I have a hard time chanting or even carrying a sign.   I did go on a "singing for peace" protest at a BART station a few years ago, in response to the war in Afghanistan.  But in Berkeley, that's just preaching to the choir.   

So I do show up.  But I do it quietly.  I don't think anything I've ever done qualifies as true civil disobedience.  I admire people who can take that step. 

My mother, on the other hand, has become feistier over the years.  In her seventies, she marched with Grandmothers for Choice.   In the last few years, she has joined other elders in antiwar demonstrations near her retirement residence.    

My mother doesn't hesitate to carry a sign.  Recently, though, she got into a little political soul-searching about the wording on a placard she'd agreed to hold.    One of her new political friends had taken her to task about it.  So she asked my opinion: 

"Honey, do  you think it's disrespectful to carry a sign that says Codgers for Peace?" 

My mother, who is in her late eighties,  thought it was irreverant and kind of cute.  But her friend-- a very earnest woman, a little older than my mother, and with better leftist credentials--thought it was a sign of age-ism.

I told my mother  she'd earned the right to carry whatever kind of sign she wants.  I did see her friend's point, I conceded. 

I wish I'd said the most important thing:  How proud I am of her.  She puts me to shame.