I have watched the video of campus police pepper spraying students at UC Davis twice. Once on NBC Nightly News, and once again just before writing this.
I can't watch it anymore than that. Not because I don't think it should be watched. I just can't bear to watch it more than twice. It infuriates me! Both as a human being who doesn't believe that other human beings should be treated like that, and as a mother. My two kids are not college aged, but I'm certainly old enough to have a child who is. If I saw that happening to my daughter or my son, I would channel my inner mother bear into some serious rage.
Yet even as I am outraged, I am also proud. Proud of those students for being willing to live out their convictions. As much as I would never want either of my kids to experience being pepper sprayed, I would not argue with their decision to challenge injustice and inequity in a non-violent way. And I know that in doing so, they would be risking retaliation by authorities that is definitely not non-violent, whether it's pepper spray or something worse.
Taking a stand against a system that is oppressive or unjust or just plain wrong takes courage. History has proven that the response to that courage by the system is usually cowardly. Whether it's pepper spraying peaceful college students, spraying down marchers with high pressure water hoses or beating protesters with billy clubs, it is cowardly and it is driven by fear. And to remain non-violent in the face of that is more courageous still.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and while I am thankful for more traditional things -- my family, my friends, a home, a vocation, more than enough food, clothing, stuff -- I also want to express my thanks for the people that are identified by those in power as troublemakers, who are told that they just need to get a job and shut up already. I suspect that they are the real peacemakers that Jesus called blessed.
I want to say thanks to those willing to take a stand. I am thankful for people like my nephew, who as a teenager on the eve of the invasion of Iraq by the last administration, marched in silent protest against a war that was popular and considered necessary by the majority. I guess he was luckier than the students at UC Davis. He wasn't pepper sprayed, but his silent vigil engendered vitriol and insults from passing drivers. Just because he and others dared to question.
I am thankful for those who have been willing to risk being scorned, imprisoned and harmed for a cause that was greater than their own needs. I am thankful for those who say enough is enough, and do something about it. I am thankful for those who stand up to injustice, in all of the ways it manifests itself. I am thankful for those who stand up. And for those who occupy, who refuse to be moved, who refuse to give up, who remind those in power that every voice must be heard. I am thankful for those who sit down.