Mediations on a Silent Vigil

For the third time now, I’ve covered my mouth with a dollar to make a statement.  I’ve uttered no sound, merely observing the world around observing me.  I must say, there are a wide array of responses one gets in such a situation.

In the most recent action #MicCheckWallSt has done, we lined a sidewalk.  Silently watching the masses pass, message ridden currency taped over our mouths.  All in the name of raising awareness that we, as consumers, are effectively selling our voices.  That in our current state, there is no way around it.  During these moments of extremely public silence, you are left with only your mind.  My mind wanders from many subjects, from where we are going as a country, to where I am going with my life, or my day.  But this day, the sun a glow, revealing the complexity of the human interactions occurring around me, the thoughts on my mind centered around the reactions, no matter how subtle, happening around me.

Most reactions were as silent as I was.

Despite being a silent vigil, it’s important to note we were all carrying flyers.  We offered them to passers-by and the curious.  Those who wondered why we stood silenced by federal tender and wanted to better understand.  They contained a simple few paragraphs about the selling of our voices to corporations who then use the money to lobby and effectively buy our congress; perpetuating this corrupt practice.

Most reactions were as silent as I was.  A brief glance, then complete visual avoidance, as if the blank building behind me suddenly held a captivating image. Some people stared forward intently, catching glances whenever they thought that we weren’t looking.  There were groups of people, with one or two exuding curiosity, but then stifling it, because curiosity was not the consensus.  There were couples carrying shopping bags that took one look and their eyes glazed over. Their faces overcome with almost a sense of shame.  There were well-dressed older women who saw us and sped up their gait.  A look of terror on their faces as if we were the lynch mob come to do them in, as if they were actually the 1% we are talking about.  Others looked a smiled, their body language exuding agreement, almost silent encouragement.  But most walked by with minimal interaction.

Others rushed past us, taking only the time to mutter a few hasty words like ‘occupy’ and ‘ridiculous.’

Many people passing by didn’t need to ask us why we were there.  Just by looking at us, they already knew exactly what our message was.  Some were receptive, even kind.  They offered words of encouragement, friendly smiles & winks, and the occasional nod of the head.  Others rushed past us, taking only the time to mutter a few hasty words like ”occupy” and “ridiculous.”  Sometimes spitting out the other phrases I have grown accustom to like, “Get a job!” as if on cue.

Of course, these reactions weren’t particularly odd or unexpected.  But as more people began to stop and stare, they seemed to become increasingly bewildered.  There were confused looks: a mouth-half-open, eyes searching for comprehension, a furrowed brow in deep thought.  When I tried to offer a written explanation, they just shook their heads.  It’s as if they knew what was on that paper, but didn’t have the heart to look at it.  As if it were a mystery they’d like to keep just that.

This struck me as strange.  Why keep yourself in the dark?  Why stifle your curiosity?  And then I noticed something.  As always, there were families milling about everywhere downtown.  The children pulling on the arms of their parents, staring at the perplexing and still unfamiliar world in which they live.  Children are raw curiosity.  They stare at new things without shame or fear.  They ask unrelenting questions when they don’t know something.  It wasn’t just their desire to understand that stuck me, but the full-blown determination that they had to learn.  They want the answers to those questions.  They stare because, like scientists in a lab, they are trying to learn through observation. As adults, we’ve had that curiosity taught out of us.

I can understand how many parents wouldn’t want their children exposed to the social ills or complexity of the world at such a young age.  But more often than not, it seemed as if it was just to avoid answering difficult questions.  I saw parents parents instead flat-out tell their children to “stop asking questions,” and “stop staring.”  In short, stop being curious.

We have trusted that those we elect for really do carry our voices into the halls of government.

There were other parents however, who were much more supportive.  They allowed their children to watch and stare as long as they liked.  To soak in the actions and the world they were witnessing first hand.  But they were the exception.  Most parents just rushed their children along; scolding the little ones for lagging behind.  As they were hurried away they continued to stare at our faces.  Their eyes filled with wonder.  Many of them seemed genuinely curious, though honestly, how does one explain to a child what exactly is happening in this world?

But what struck me most of all in watching these  parents was how their own reactions seemed vaguely reminiscent of scolded children themselves. It was as if they were hearing their parents telling them, “don’t stare” and “don’t ask so many questions.”  Our culture claims to promote achievement while at the same time demeaning curiosity at its most basic level.

As I stood there in silent protest, this thought persisted. Is the systematic attack on curiosity (intentionally or not) not what got us into this mess?  We are more apt to listen to the opinions of  ”professionals” purely for having studied at this university or that? We so quickly trust people because their faces are on television, or they have a large vocabulary, or  tackle somewhat confusing subjects on occasion.  We don’t question them.  I agree with those who say, “Question everything!”

Whether you read Fox News or our lovely independent Stranger, I challenge you to think critically about them.  Separate fact from opinion.  Even the best reporters with the purest of intentions are after all, just human.  And as humans we are all a little naturally biased towards the thing we like and away from those we don’t.

But, there’s a big difference between questioning something and having complete distrust in everything.  I’m not insinuating one shouldn’t trust anyone.  I’m merely saying, we need to question more.  Democracy on every level depends on checks and balances.  We all know this from our social studies class.  The people, for far too long, have not checked the government.  We have trusted that those we elect for really do carry our voices into the halls of government.  And even more so, we allow ourselves to trust ads, quick bios online, and so on and so forth.

I will not deny I’ve done this.  And no, I’m not just talking about during presidential campaigns. Every four years much of America actually starts acting like a democracy. At least a particular candidate.  How we treat this election should be how we treat every election.  News flash: democracy isn’t easy.  Any government that’s not constantly checked and balanced by it’s people is no better than a dictatorship.

Whatever the election is: national, state, or local; participate!  Read more about the candidates.  Don’t just put some effort into learning about who want’s to be the next president.  Learn about who’s running for your county’s council, your local school board, and your congressional seats. Learn about the people running in your neighboring districts!

Whether you are for or against reform, sweeping change or minor adjustments,  it all starts with raising awareness.

We’re partially to blame for our own predicament because we’ve collectively failed to care.  We must strive to question.  If you’re not an expert, become one.  Read as much as you can.  Even if it’s just scanning the headlines.  Even if it’s just asking your neighbor what they heard on the news.  This is community building at it’s most fundamental level.  Whether you are for or against reform, sweeping change or minor adjustments, it all starts with raising awareness.

Curiosity and responsibility.  Standing there silently in the cold it made me think.  I realized how important those things are to me.  I resolved to not only become more curious and responsible myself, but encourage and inspire those things in others.  To be the change I wished to see.  And that is the start of the most profound change of all.

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