On Saturday afternoon, emerging from the cramped hell of the Government Center MBTA stop into spacious City Hall plaza, I was greeted by a leafletter and activist. He caught me off guard.
Activist: I’m with the American Communist party. Are you here for the demonstration?
Jane: (silently double-takes at “communist”) Er, yeah.
Activist: We believe that the Prop 8 marriage ban is one of a number of equal rights atrocities in this country. There are workers’ rights, health care rights–
Jane: (warming up to and interrupting him) I’m with you.
By the way, he looks like a young Jackson Browne. Remember him?
Activist: Are you here because… (long sizing-up pause) of reproductive rights?
Jane: (what? huh?) Well, I’m for reproductive rights — yes, definitely — but I’m here to oppose the ban on gay marriage.
Activist: Great. Are you willing to make a donation? Here’s our newspaper.
Jane: (hands over five dollars) Yes.
Activist: Thanks. So, basically we believe more and more people must become combative on these issues of rights. We need to step it up, put more pressure on the system.
Jane: (alarmed) Oh, well, I’m basically against violence, so —
Activist: I’m nonviolent, too. I don’t meant violence. I mean we have to organize and fight.
Jane: Okay, yes.
Since Saturday, I’ve been ruminating over that conversation, and the subtle yet important differences between violent and combative. He’s right. And although I went to the demonstration and was counted, is it enough to stand there peacefully on the sidelines, as I did? Silence, after all, does not speak volumes.
*Regarding my choice of title for this post: One year in high school I was a cheerleader for the basketball team. Kind of a social experiment that didn’t take. Anyway, one of our cheers went like this: “We’re gonna F-I-G-H-T; we’re gonna M-I-G-H-T; we’re gonna W-I-N. [pause] We’re gonna fight with all our might to win!” And while I do NOT equate protesting with mere cheerleading, the word “fight” always fires this connection in my memory.