Anyone who doesn’t understand the concept of direct action should look at a two- year-old throwing a tantrum. This occurred to me last week after I witnessed the fury of my child’s first full-on kicking and screaming tantrum. There is a kernel of human genius in every pissed off child. What’s the easiest way to get what you want? Make a huge fuss about it– immediately. That is a concept familiar to any three year old, yet it is lost on most of us old folks. You don’t see toddlers going around signing e-mail petitions to get more Popsicles and less turnip greens for dinner. You don’t see toddlers registering to vote so they can choose between two morally bankrupt, intellectually bereft candidates. When small children want something, they do everything within their power to get it—-right now! And so it is with direct action.
A direct action might inadvertently inconvenience someone, but like a tantrum, those inconvenienced kind of have to admire the effort the whole event takes. You think, “My God, at least there’s someone out there still speaking her mind.” And somewhere, secretly, you’re wishing you could do the same thing. You remember the outrage you felt as a child when you began to figure out that the world is set up to prevent you from having any fun. Mom said everyone was nice but it turns out people are bastards. I feel like throwing a tantrum every time I read a newspaper. Call me immature.
Sometimes I think that’s why direct action doesn’t make sense to Americans. It goes against the Protestant work ethic: “Fun? Not when there is work to be done!” It goes against our heavily ingrained notion that authority makes the most sense—one should do what they’re told, speak when they’re spoken to. We’re almost happy when Mr.Red Tape show us more hoops to jump through: “The HMO needs documentation of my great-grandmother’s gallstone operation before they can authorize my first appointment with the optometrist? With pleasure! Anything else I can do for you while I’m at it?”
So it’s interesting, conversely, that our revolutionary American spirit, one of the things that makes us who we are, is the impetus to direct action. Don’t like it–do something about it! Don’t like the British overtaxing on their already overpriced tea? Throw it in the harbor and call it the Boston Tea Party! There’s always coffee, after all! Walk into a saloon and see a smooth character sidling up to your sweetie—-go and break a bottle over his head! Or two! We’ve always been that way. It’s one of those things you’ve got to love about America. Get a load of this event, described by Abigail Adams in 1777:
“One eminent, stingy merchant (who is a bachelor) had a hogshead of coffee in his store, which he refused to sell the committee under six shillings per pound. A number of females, some say a hundred, some say more, assembled with a cart and trucks, marched down to the warehouse, and demanded the keys, which he refused to deliver, Upon which one of them seized him by his neck and tossed him in the cart. Upon his finding no quarter, he delivered the keys when they tipped up the cart and discharged him; then opened the warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into the trunks and drove off…A large concourse of men stood amazed, silent spectators of the whole transaction.”
My question is: where are all the angry Americans now? Has the government managed to squelch every last voice of outrage? Where are our outlaws, our national conscience, our surly characters who are willing to do what it takes, even if it be outside the bounds of what polite society deems proper?
They’re out there, getting shot with rubber bullets by the Oakland Police Department. Or didn’t you hear about that?
They’re out there, getting arrested en masse by NYPD, for standing outside the headquarters of one of the vilest companies ever to slither its way onto the investment scene. Or didn’t you hear about the Carlyle Group?
They’re out there—or they’re in prison. Or didn’t you hear about the Patriot Act?
Everyone else is safe at home, so to speak, trying not to think about what might come next. Who is going to break a bottle over the heads of the limey bastards now? What would our revolutionary forefathers and foremothers say?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve begun to think that upsetting somebody’s old- fashioned sense of decorum if it gets something done makes more sense than waiting in a sinking boat, smiling inanely as the water closes over your ankles.
Don’t drown, waiting for the Coast Guard to bail you out. There’s a cup right there–bail yourself out. Or at least go down kicking and screaming. And if you’re lucky enough to escape, go throw a tantrum, because the boat that got sold to you was screwed up long before it came your way.