The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Dedication

I make the long drive back down to DC from Vermont under pretty horrific conditions. It rained heavily, and there is apparently a sensor that gets wet, shorts out, and I lose power very erratically on the hills when it is wet. It might be the oxygen sensor. But the performance changes dramatically in dry weather, so I am guessing there is a regulator with a sensor in the system. I don’t think that this truck has an ECU, and it has a carb, not fuel injection. Also, the seal is leaking on the windshield in the truck, and I need to make a new gasket when it is drier. I thought that I had been pretty careful, and the seal itself is rock-hard solid (not going anywhere), but water still gets in. It really is a 2 person job, and because I did it by myself, the seal could be improved. I’m confident that the problem can be fixed though with gasket maker.

In the course of the 2 days prior to the drive, I had first my camera disappear, then my cell phone disappear, and then finally my insulin disappear. I managed to replace all of these things at the last minute so that I could take pictures of the dedication event. It was to be a very special moment for me.

So, MLK dedication day… I wake up, and try to feed the birds. I knew that “His Eye is on the Sparrow” was one of MLK’s favorite hymns, and I wanted some footage of a sparrow, and doves. I waited and waited, but they failed to appear. Or rather, every time they appeared, and I brought out the camera, they disappeared. It should have been my first clue…

I abandon my efforts at capturing pictures of special birds on this occasion, it was apparently not to be celebrated with the birds. I state this matter-of-factly, but it is not really an isolated observation. When one lives in a system with oppression, and discusses empowering those who have been oppressed, or even self-empowerment, one is forced to confront the ostentatious associations of power with consumption, pollution, strong powerful machines, wealth, etc. When one group has had this, and flaunted it for lifetimes, it is natural for other groups to associate empowerment with these things. In this respect, environmental goals can seemingly come into conflict with civil rights issues. Everyone wants a refrigerator, or to go to the moon, and yet, in this world, it simply isn’t sustainable. So we are left with privilege that in some ways can never be equalized or shared without enormous harm to the world. I think that this is a salient and sobering observation – one that should make those who currently have, want a more modest expression of status.

About half of my work on nonviolence is centered around animal rights issues, largely dog rights, and the impact that most dog laws have on animals in shelters – many end up there because they violated a law that was imposed on them, one that they had no say in. In this spirit, I decide to take the dogs to the dedication event, and in order to accomplish this I would have to get them into the subway system. Dogs technically are not allowed, unless they have paperwork declaring them to be service animals. In the spirit of Dr. King, I decide that my nonviolent protest action on this day would be to call attention to this problem, and the huge impact that it has on both dog adoption and mobility for persons with dogs. One should be able to demonstrate basic social competence with a dog, and thereby allow the dogs into the public transportation system, especially when they provide a service to the community.

So, I go to the metro stop with the dogs. I’m informed by a very authoritative “dog speech” that they are not allowed in. I tell them I know, but that in the spirit of Dr. King’s day, could they please either:
1) issue me a citation for having dogs in the subway system.
or
2) participate in the nonviolent civil disobedience by allowing me to take a picture of the dogs inside a metro car.


They “refuse to participate in my activity.” No citation, no picture, etc. I explain to them that I cannot go to jail because my dogs might be seized and never returned to me. That seems like an unfair consequence to an action that is designed to be civil. Instead, could we agree on the consequences, and issue me a citation, so that I can formally protest this law that does not allow me freedom of movement with my dogs who save my life during the winter with their warmth, and guide me the rest of the year when I have difficulties on the trail? There was no discussion on their part. I’m eventually escorted out of the system, not unlike the way I’m shuttled out of every situation. No voice, no impact, nothing I do is allowed to have any influence on anything. If it is done by me, it is all supposed to be redone. I don’t count. I don’t matter. I technically don’t exist, except to obey their authorities. My ideas are seized and used without acknowledgement by others. But mostly, if I do have an idea, it is not to be acted upon. I can have no will.

So, I internalize their desire for my negation in a physical way. I buy a pack of smokes – and although I can barely breath without coughing as it is, I smoke them. Painfully inhaling their negation. I open a bottle of beer, and although challenged to remember as it is, I don’t really want to remember, or be this powerless over those who hurt me, and feel the anger. And I buy donuts, and eat them one by one, to gratify this need for authority and protest, that the system won’t let me gratify in any other way. I eat a cheeseburger – killing a poor cow who had no voice in his situation, and didn’t do anyone any wrong. Is it my own weakness? Or simply, that there is nowhere for the anger to go? Never mind that I am satisfying their lust for profit. In my synthetic genius, I manage to satisfy both constraints: their desire for wealth, control, and my destruction, and my desire for autonomy and gratification. It is the genius of unfettered capitalism. Perhaps even tragic theatre, poetry, or art.

Despair

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