The youngest member of a panel on Civil Disobedience, I looked out at a sea of faces. My palms sweated, my legs readjusted numerous times, and my head swiveled between the calmer looking “disobedient” professors and panelists seated next to me. When my turn came to share my experience of rebellion, the stage lights brightened and someone turned up the thermostat.
As I eased into my familiar story, the stomach butterflies slowed their rapid flutter. In the Fall 2009 semester, I slept out on the Boston common in protest of my dorm room being powered by dirty electricity. Hundreds of other students joined me from colleges all around Massachusetts; it was an incredible communal statement to the public, media and government. Climate change demands attention and action now! I was proud to tell the shipboard community about lobbying representatives in the statehouse, which ultimately helped to pass a bill that created a taskforce to “Repower Massachusetts” with a majority of clean energy by 2020.
Our civil disobedience was fruitful and so was my criminal record! In reality, the citation I received for occupying the public square didn’t go on my permanent record. We had to pay fines, all 300 of us, yet none of that money is going to build windmills, shut down coal plants or give tax incentive for hybrid car owners. Despite our frustrating monetary contribution to the legal system, the bill we passed will help to fund our cause.
Taking my seat and reflecting on the words I just shared, my meager sleep-out felt dwarfed amongst the faculty’s stories of spending time in prison and risking expulsion from lying in front of deans’ offices during the Vietnam anti-war era. Nevertheless, every act of defiance helps, whether it’s raising awareness among peers, donating money, sleeping on public property, or just writing a letter. Story after story shared from the panel, made me realize the profound power of individual efforts coming together to demand change.
Yet, there seems to be a current lack of activism in our country. Especially among students, there seems to be indifference towards wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Joel Savishinsky—an anthropology professor on the ship—blames this apathy on the lack of a draft. Students and their parents aren’t affected personally by the war, because they aren’t forced to be involved. According to Savishinsky, Americans are apathetic due to this lack of personal involvement. The panelists really encouraged students to inform themselves about the wars we are currently fighting. I was inspired by these calls to action; it’s up to the students of this country to rile the media and the public. We must stand up and say something.
Historically, anti-war movements didn’t change political policy overnight. It begins with individual efforts, small group formation. Slowly the cause gains momentum, participation and power. Ultimately a widespread movement is formed, full of daring drive, passionate oomph and an incredible collective capability. The words of Margaret Mead lift my spirits and dry my nervous palms: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
Once the panel was over, I heard a small, familiar voice call my name. Two wrinkled hands squeezed one of mine, passing electric wisdom. His eyes entered me and his voice grabbed hold of my heart, “Good, good, good,” whispered Desmond Tutu.
— Kira McCoy