The young woman had been camped out in front of City Hall for over a month. Her hair was straggly, but she had a smile on her face and she was holding a donut.

“Can you tell us why you’re still here?” the local news interviewer asked.

“I’m here because of my deep commitment to equity and fighting the oppression of marginalized communities,” the woman said. Granted, she looked like she wouldn’t recognize a marginalized community if she tripped over it on her way to her local co-op vegan cafe, but I loved her anyway.

I was obsessed with the protests. Every afternoon, as soon as I got home from work, I dropped onto my couch, slipped off my shoes and watched the latest. The campers were opposed to the Mayor’s harsh treatment of the homeless. Their encampment was supposed to be a reminder to him of how those without a home were forced to live. It sprawled out from City Hall into the nearby park, littering it with insulting signs, red flags and communal kitchen pots.

They weren’t going to accomplish anything in the end. And there was no way that I could go sit there with them, not with my job and my mortgage. Despite all of that, I fantasized about the protesters. I fantasized about ordering pizza for them, going to bring them homemade soup. Maybe I could knit scarves for them. I would hand out a scarf to each of them, give them a hug and tell them how special they were. I would be like the Mother Theresa of the City Hall camp. It was the least I could do.

I turned off the TV and went to pour myself a glass of wine. The rice was already cooking. I switched on the radio. The local leftie community station was broadcasting from the camp. I listened and the little butterfly of excitement started fluttering around my belly again.

I could feel a shift in my body and suddenly, another voice drowned out the activist on the radio. The voice was calm and logical, sounding very confident even though it was offering public testimony in front of the city council.

It’s not that we don’t want this development to be built at all. It’s just that it’s too big. It’s going to change the character of the neighborhood…

I shook my head and stared down into the sink. No matter how much I wanted it to turn off, the voice continued.

And is the building going to have sufficient parking? Where are the residents going to park? I’m betting the cars will end up on our street…

I turned off the radio. Mother Theresa. What was I thinking? I walked back to the living room with my wine glass, but the voice followed me.

We all agree that affordable housing is so important, but…

The shift had already happened to me a long time ago. I had turned into the person who testifies against affordable housing projects if they’re being planned for her neighborhood. I could indulge in rebellious nostalgia all I wanted to, but I was not who these anarchist hippie kids wanted to see at their protest, not any more than I wanted to have an actual conversation with someone who was homeless. Not any more than I would have liked to see the City Hall camp in my backyard, if I was going to be honest.

I had shifted far past what I had once believed in, floating off on the stream of comfortable daily habit until I no longer knew where I was. Was I even a progressive? I had no idea.

Well, sitting here and feeling bad for myself certainly wasn’t going to help anyone. I wiped my eyes and turned on the Lifestyle Channel. They always had the best decorating tips.

Advertisements

The radio is already playing Christmas carols, and Ferguson is still smoldering. And the head shaking about what happened in Ferguson is continuing. It’s sad to watch businesses that have been part of a neighborhood for years be destroyed. And I won’t lie–I’ve become an old, comfortable suburbanite, so the thought of civil unrest of any kind mainly makes me nervous. Yet even inside my middle-class bubble of safety, a question lingers…

If the protests had been completely peaceful, would anyone have cared? If not a single fire had been set, would anyone have noticed?

The news media pretty much gives us the answer. The peaceful protesters in Ferguson–and there was a large group of them–were mostly ignored by the cameras. The rioters and looters got all the attention. And the TV channels were waiting with their tongues out, panting for something “bad” to happen. That’s why it’s so galling now to see the CNN experts taking on a “tsk tsk tsk” finger wagging role. This is exactly what they wanted! Peaceful protest doesn’t make for very entertaining television.

We did have some protesters here in town who got media coverage, but only because they blocked the roads, resulting in furious rush hour drivers. And what if they had stayed out of the traffic? We have the answer to that question too. The night of the grand jury announcement itself, a group of activists gathered in front of the Justice Center downtown, chanting and singing songs. The local news anchor gave them about ten seconds of his attention before moving on to Timmy the tap dancing cat or whatever other human interest story he had lined up.

We like to tout the philosophy of non-violence, the example of leaders like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr–who’s being quoted a lot these days–but how much respect do those who follow the non-violent way actually get? And does peaceful protest even work? I’ve been involved in a couple protest marches myself (I think you’re required to do that before you can get official Portland resident status). I was at one of the Bring Back Our Girls rallies, and couldn’t help thinking that being there was, more than anything, about making ourselves feel better. If the Boko Haram kidnappers could have seen us reading our poems about justice and sending our positive vibes out into the universe, they probably would have laughed their asses off. And, judging from at least one Youtube video, they did.

And this plays out on an even grander global scale. Vladimir Putin has been spending his free time making threatening military gestures. President Obama tried–at least at first–to establish a foreign policy of diplomacy and negotiation rather than war. Obama was dismissed as weak, whereas Putin was praised for being a super macho male, and the conservatives of the world are all but doodling little hearts on the snapshots of his bare-chested horse rides.

So is peace the way of the losers? This is an appropriate issue for me to ponder, especially as I get closer to celebrating the symbolic birth of my symbolic spiritual teacher, who preached about turning the other cheek and then got killed off by the powers that be. As a child of hippies, I would like to continue to believe in non-violence. But it’s very obvious to me which path the world I live in values more.