Small Acts of Defiance


In 2004, my mom was driving by a public school when she saw a bunch of Bush/Cheney signs hanging on the campus. Cheney had done a campaign stop at the school the day before, and the signs were still up.


My mom pulled her car over to the side of the road, got out, and started removing the signs.


A little while later, the police arrived, and said that she was on private property, and told her to stop removing the signs. My mom told the police that she was on public property, and that campaign signs on public property were illegal. So she continued pulling them down.


My mom was a retired public school teacher, and she was secure in her assentation that the signs were illegal. My dad had just died, and my mom was in the process of moving into a retirement community.  Her body was becoming increasingly frail. But her sense of justice had not diminished.


Now my mom enjoyed both white privilege, and the privilege of being a rather frail old lady, who was unlikely to be tackled by the small town police. She also had the privilege of being educated and articulate, and the privilege of being a retiree who had no small children waiting to be picked up from daycare or school, and no hourly wage job that she was running late for. So she defied the police instructions. Because she knew she was right.


They brought her down to the police station, and they held her for a while. She enjoyed her time at the police station, lecturing the young police officers about campaign laws and public property and how tax dollars supported the public schools. After a couple of hours, they drove her back to her car and no charges were pressed.


I love this story. I love my mom’s boldness. Her determination to just do what was right.


My mom died a few short years after this incident. But if she were alive today, no matter how frail she was, she would be out on the streets, fighting for justice. In big, organized events like marches. And in spontaneous ways. Tearing down signs. Pulling out her phone to take pictures. Calling legislators, or wagging her finger at people who are in positions of power, but who are wrong.


Each of us is going to face many opportunities over the next few years to witness injustice. Sometimes, it will be at moments when we least expect it.  Each of us has a different capacity to respond.  Different obligations. Different privileges. Different risks. Different styles.


But if each of us acts, according to our capacity, we can make a difference.