I promise to give you some great advice on how to make an omelet if you’ll just bear with me. It’s advice I picked up from a Russian prince. But first I’m going to take a detour back to the question of the Jim Webb’s “Born Fighting” slogan. Yes, I must.
An insightful reader wrote a comment on yesterday’s post stating that the slogan was ambiguous because she didn’t know whether Webb meant the bad kind of fighting – supporting the military, the neocons, the wars, etc. – or the good kind of fighting – sticking up for the underdog, the oppressed.
Before I answer with my thoughts on fighting, let me give you my bona fides. I am a former anti-war activist. A peace and love hippie from the sixties. Ok, in my case really from the seventies. But most of what we think of as the sixties happened in 1968 and after. And the anti-war movement really hit its peak in the early seventies. Woodstock, arguably the most iconic event of the sixties, took place August 17, 18 and 19, 1969.
In 1968, when I was 14, my boyfriend and I walked into a police station in Suffern, NY, a small suburban hamlet about 40 miles from New York City and handed a bemused police sergeant a daffodil. Daffodils, for some reason that I don’t recall anymore, became the universal hippie symbol for peace and love.
The cops didn’t know quite what to do with either the daffodils or us. Neither did the passersby on the street to whom we handed out flowers on a chilly early spring evening. It was cold enough that I was wearing a long winter coat over my ankle length granny dress. My hair was long and straight and parted down the middle. My 15 year-old boyfriend wore his hair almost exactly like mine, long and parted in the middle. He was attired in faded, ripped jeans and a denim work shirt. We were wearing the hippie uniforms of 1968.
But I have one more solid credential of my former hippiedom that’s even harder to challenge than my actions and appearance that night in March.
When I was 15, I went to the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in Bethel, New York. Actually, I hitchhiked to it. By the time I arrived, the fence at the entrance had been knocked down and in the ensuing chaos nobody bothered to collect our tickets. So I have all three days’ tickets in perfect, mint condition. I have been told they are worth a lot of money to collectors of antique memorabilia. That may be true, but I’ll never sell them. To me, they are priceless.
As I got older, I became more politicized and radicalized. I joined anti-war groups, including the Student Mobilization Committee. I lived a few towns away from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, one of the oldest pacifist organizations in America, located in Nyack-on-the-Hudson, New York.
I had lots of friends who worked there, including a few who sat out the war as conscientious objectors. FOR was a religious organization so its members were able to get the coveted CO status. That wasn’t easy because draft boards were very suspicious of draft dodgers and didn’t hand out conscientious objector exemptions to just anybody. But FOR’s credentials as a legitimate religious, pacifist organization were impeccable.
But I never joined FOR although I admired them greatly. I still do. But I’m not a pacifist. There are a lot of wars I’m still against. But a few that I thought were necessary too.
And I think that fighting is appropriate. But then I went from being an almost pacifist to a self-styled revolutionary while I was still in my teens. Of course, by the time I was in my 20s, I actually gave up romanticized fantasies of me and Che in the jungles. Instead, I became a reform Democrat and I never regretted it.
You see, I think that whenever possible peaceful change is always better than using violent means. And I believed then, and still do today, that America is a democracy. That means we have the power to change things and make a difference through the ballot box. And one thing that living through the Watergate era proved to me was that we are also still a nation of laws. Even those who hold the highest office who would subvert our Constitution for their own gain will get caught and punished.
I still have faith in America.
And I have great faith in the need to wage peaceful fights, but fights nonetheless. The voting booth and the ballot box, the strike and the picket line, the sit in and peaceful civil disobedience are all part of the arsenal of waging a fight for social justice in a democracy.
But so is the right to pick up a gun to defend one’s family and property. Rosa Parks recounted her memories of growing up watching the Ku Klux Klan march down the streets of her neighborhood in Alabama. She also remembered seeing all the black men standing on their porches, clutching their hunting rifles, as they watched the bigots march by.
And Mother Jones wasn’t just some sweet old lady who organized overworked children in the coalmines. She once pummeled a man nearly to death with her heavy boots when he broke into her home. Although the authorities arrested her and wanted to bring her to trial, the charges of attempted murder against her were dropped when the victim was identified as an ally of a prominent businessman with whom Mother Jones and her union were involved in a labor dispute.
There is only one kind of fighting. What distinguishes a moral and ethical fight from one that is an immoral abuse of violence is what it is you are fighting for. Without a fight, and often a bloody fight, many of the gains that were made by the working class, by blacks and by women would not have occurred.
Oh, and the advice on making an omelet. It comes from Mikhail Bakunin, a 19th Century Russian prince who was also a notorious anarchist. First you’ve got to break the egg.