On the Fence

I staged my first organized protest against “injustice” when I was 16.  It had significant ramifications  that I have carried with me and used as guide when I feel righteous anger against anything, anywhere.

I was a leader in our church youth group and a member of our congregation invited us to their neighborhood pool for a swim party.  This was in the Rio Grande Valley in the late 1970’s.  There was another pool in our town…a city pool.  It was in a part of town that my father refused to let me go into to.  “That” part of town.  My father is a story unto himself.  We won’t get into that right now.  Getting invited to go to that pool was a big deal.

Then I found out that this pool was for only certain people.  People who were white. Remember this was the 1970’s  And the Rio Grande Valley.  Be outraged if you like, but please finish reading this.  Understand that I was outraged too.

Our pastor and his wife at the time had adopted a little girl from Bolivia.  In my mind, because she was not “white” she would be excluded from this swim party.  Unacceptable!

I started talking…loudly.  I demanded justice.  I canceled the pool party.    I interrupted a church service to stand up for her rights and the rights of everyone else who were being denied the right to swim in that pool.  I felt pretty good about myself.  I was working for social justice.  That’s what my church taught.

Only it turned out that nobody had any intention of keeping that little girl out of that pool. And if I had initiated a conversation about my concerns, it could all have been worked out peacefully…and I would not have made a complete jackass of myself.

That pool was not actually a neighborhood pool.  It had been built by a few residents in the neighborhood with their own money and they shared it with others who owned house in the neighborhood.  Because they were neighbors.  So it was a private pool.  It was “their” pool and they could do with it as they wished.

Was it “right”?  That’s a really big question.  Was it legal?  Yes.

Was I wrong to be on the lookout for injustice and all things unfair?  Nope.

Did I handle it incorrectly with extremism and a total lack of concern for everyone around me?  Absolutely.

I was forgiven by most.  There was a lot of head-shaking by quite a few.  After all, I was young and “didn’t really understand how the world worked”.  At the church’s senior luncheon, I was voted as the most likely to end up in jail as a result of a demonstration or protest of some kind.

I don’t regret this incident.  It’s contributed greatly to who I am.  I believe in fairness and equality.  I also believe in peaceful protest.  I believe in honoring the law.  I believe in making a decision about a person by the character he exhibits and I understand that we are all flawed and make mistakes…sometimes big mistakes…in our efforts to make things better.

I condemn violence and hate speech and the harassment of anyone who disagrees with you.  I can also understand some of it.  That doesn’t mean I endorse it.

I tend to sit on the fence and watch.  There’s a good view from there.  I’m not so far on one side of the pasture or the other that I can’t see far enough.  Sitting on the fence doesn’t mean I don’t ever get off of it.  I’ve gone left and I’ve gone right. I just try to sit on the fence and get a good lay of the land before I go running off in any direction.

When I was 16, I learned that I didn’t know everything.  I learned that listening and asking questions and initiating rational discussion is important.  I learned it the hard way.

I am 55 now.  I still don’t know everything.  I still believe in trying to make things right.

I do know that I’m as sick of the fear-mongering by some who are fighting for social justice as I am of the hateful speech and violence being promoted by some on the other side.

The view from the fence right now is unpleasant no matter which way I turn.  And the fence is getting pretty damn crowded as an increasing number of folks are speaking up and saying the extremists are not speaking for them. Being the loudest is not always the best.

I learned that when I was 16.

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