Blog, Humor, Memoir

My Personal Civil Rights Movement

I’ve always considered myself a political activist. My soul was meant for the 60s, participating in sit-ins and fighting against “The Man”. Of course, I’m a child of the 90s/00s so “The Man” was usually just my mom and pops, though the biggest oppressor of all was my older brother. As a child, I liked to stage elaborate protests that consisted of a very loud and flamboyant display of my unhappiness and rage against the machine.

However, while I’ve been an activist in spirit I’ve also always been deathly afraid of breaking the rules. I have an aversion to getting into trouble that is deep-seeded and surrounded by layers of fear and anxiety that cannot be easily explained. So while I would protest the injustices of my young privileged existence, I’d always walk a very fine line between civil disobedience and overt rule breaking.

This is best described by an incident in my childhood. I was 7 years old, my oppressive brother was babysitting me and refused to give into one of my, undoubtedly reasonable requests (the exact nature of this particular offense now alludes me). Unable to withstand any more of his tyranny I declared that I was running away. I packed my toothbrush and favorite toy and set off to parts unknown. Unfortunately, I ran into trouble almost immediately when I came to the end of our cul-de-sac, the very clear and unchanging rules that my 7-year-old self was to follow or face dire consequences; no TV (i.e. no Disney Channel).

The Rules:

1. Say Please and Thank You
2. Have someone else pour your drink in a plastic cup
3. Be inside when the street lights come on
4. Do not cross the street without holding a hand

The dreaded rule four. The only nearby person deemed acceptable by my parents to hold my hand and cross the street to freedom and a life of adventure was my tyrant of a big brother. I turned around and could see him in the driveway, mocking me with his crossed arms, taunting me with his power. I took a step off the curb but a car passed by and scared me back to the safety of the sidewalk. What was I to do? I was stuck in a prison of my own making.

I resolved not to give in. I sat down on the curb to calmly and rationally plan out my next steps.

“What are you doing?” my brother yelled at me from our tame and familiar driveway.

“Running away!” I shouted indignantly from the wilderness that was East Banyan Ave. and North Whittier St. a mere 300 feet from the end of our driveway.

“Looks like you’re just sitting there.”

“I’m not allowed to cross the street by myself!” I screamed in fury.

He knew very well the rule that left me stuck. How dare he mock my attempts at freedom! I could see him laughing at me, thinking about how much fun he will have re-telling the story of his triumph.

“Good luck” responded the tyrant as he retreated back into our house.

My mind was racing, I was stuck with no idea how to get out of my predicament. If only I could call my grandpa, he was always good in a crisis. However, I also wasn’t really allowed to make long distance phone calls on my own. Besides, the phone was in the house and I had my doubts the cordless phone would work at such a far distance.

I stared back at the house if only I was allowed to babysit myself. After all, I was 7 years old, practically an adult. Definitely more mature and qualified than my older brother who kept peeking out the window to make sure I was still at my post at the end of the street. After what seemed like ages, but was no more than an hour because my parents didn’t trust either of us enough to be left alone for too long, a car pulled into our quiet street and stopped.

The window rolled down and inside I see my parents.

“What are you doing?” my father asked looking concerned.

“Running away,” I said defiantly.

“Why?” my mother looked amused, she never takes me seriously, that’s where my evil brother gets his mockery from.

“He is mean and won’t let me do anything!”

“Where are you going?” my mom asked, trying to put a serious face on.

“I’m going to San Diego to live with grandma and grandpa but I’m not allowed to cross the street by myself, will you hold my hand? The street lights will be on soon and I need to get there fast.”

At that, all my parents’ attempts at seriousness faded into a never-ending stream of laughter and smiles and tears. Fed up with not being taken seriously I stood up and unleashed a tirade, a real “I Have a Dream” level speech about my freedom and rights being held asunder by their tyranny and the unfairness of being put under the thumb of such a mean boy, I mean he wouldn’t even play tag with me!

My dad got out of the car, leaving my mom to drive it to the house, took me by the hand and I think, finally, I’m getting somewhere, my pops is always on my side, I’ll be sad to leave him. However, he steers me back to our house and explains that running away is a big decision and I should sleep on it, if I still want to run away tomorrow, he’ll help me cross the street.

It didn’t seem too unreasonable so I comply. I straighten up and walk back, temporarily defeated but holding on to the shred of dignity I have left.

I no longer have the constraints of rule number four. In fact, I cross streets alone quite regularly now. However, the internal struggle to rebel and protest against perceived injustice or conform to the norms of society remains. I’ve learned to get comfortable walking the fine line between standing up for my individual freedoms and participating in society. I pay taxes, but I wear mix matched socks. My brother’s socks, however, always match.