Tag: history

Protests Don’t Work

Protests don’t work. Yes, I’ve said it. I’ve been an activist for over 30 years, spending a whole lot of time shouting slogans and waving signs, but I’ve been known to say it and will say it again. Protests don’t work. But, let me go a little deeper here and share what’s inspired this post.

On August 18th, 1920 the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed giving women in the US the right to vote. (We could get into the discussion of who exactly got the right to vote, but that’s another post for another time.) Historical societies and museums across the country are celebrating the 100th anniversary of this amazing victory right now with exhibits, documentaries, and educational events. Yesterday, a friend and I went to visit the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison to view their exhibit on suffrage. It was an excellent display and I would encourage anyone in the area to check it out.

As we wandered and viewed the images my friend questioned whether some of the tactics used by the suffragettes might provide lessons for organizers today. Could we use any of the same tools? She lamented that protests and rallies no longer work because of the fact that we live in a world of social media in which messages move so quickly and can so easily be modified. I proposed that protests have never worked and never will, at least not on their own.

Protests are only a tool. It is the actions between the protests and behind the scenes that make the work successful or not. Protesting remains important, if well used. It is a tool that can draw public attention and influence decision makers. However, it is important not to expect that protesting on its own is going to bring change. A large portion of the museum display was dedicated to the banners, signs, buttons, sashes, and tunics worn and used during fight for the vote and later fight for the ERA. This makes sense as they are very visual pieces of history. Still, it only shows us the highlights of what was really a much more complex history.

In the 1820’s, one hundred years before the amendment was to pass, white men had gained the right to vote in most states and discussions had begun about this right for women. By 1948, the movement solidified through the Seneca Falls convention. For nearly one hundred years women met, discussed, strategized, argued. They built partnerships and alliances. They wrote letters, created newspapers, handed out pamphlets, spoke to handfuls and to huge crowds of people. They coordinated conferences. Women, and some men, committed their lives to this issue of justice. Some would never see the results of their work as they would die before the passage of the amendment.

We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that social change is some sort of fast food where we head up to the capitol or wherever to protest and come home with our win. There is much more. The struggles are long and hard, but the victories and the loves found along the way are well worth it. Take good care of yourselves my friends and keep on moving forward.

What Happened Next? Looking at the History of Underrepresented Peoples

I was watching a documentary on PBS last night about the life of Helen Keller. It was an interesting show that focused primarily on her adult years rather than the childhood picture that so many of us were introduced to as children. It made me wonder about how often we cheat ourselves by contenting ourselves with stories of history that are meant for children and that usually are missing major pieces that really make the story. I wonder how often we cheat the children in our lives by minimizing their education with these simple stories like that of the little deaf and blind girl and fail to tell them of the woman who was a prominent socialist, a skilled writer, an actor, public speaker, ambassador for US, and so much more?

Clearly, stories designed for children whether written or video or some other form are often less complex than those created for adults. But, how do we take that first story and make into a series? When we look at something like “The Miracle Worker” it seems like the story ends with the miracle of Helen learning to communicate, but in reality that’s only the beginning. We do much the same thing when we talk about many other figures in history, particularly those from historically underrepresented groups. Rosa Parks is a great example. We largely get the story that this individual woman was tired, sat down, and refused to give up her seat on the bus. Not only is that historically inaccurate, but it’s incomplete. Mrs. Parks was a trained community activist who had a history in the Civil Rights Movement. She was part of a much larger strategy to integrate the busses in Montgomery. She also remained active working for social justice through the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power Movement, as a staff person to US Representative John Conyers, and working to support political prisoners in the US among other issues until her death in 2005.

People like Ms. Keller and Mrs. Parks are so much more than what we often give them credit for. By failing to recognize the breadth of their contributions and those of others like them we fail to fully support and encourage the next generations of those who share pieces of their realities, whether those be young women, people with disabilities, people of color, Indigenous peoples, or others. Reading the children’s books and watching kids movies about these historical figures is great, by all means do it! Don’t forget the next step though. Dig a little deeper. Ask “what happened next?”

History Isn’t Such a Long Time



I like history museums and historical sites. I’ll often go visit them to get to know the place that I live or the spot that I’m visiting or maybe just to get to know myself a little better.

Today, since it was raining and I had the day off of work, I took a trip down to the Pope County Museum in Glenwood Minnesota. It’s a great little museum. I would encourage folks traveling through the region and those who live here to stop in. It had one of the best displays on Native American history that I’ve seen in a museum of its size. True, I’ve seen some really inaccurate and just plain awful displays of Native history, but this one, it was okay. Overall, the museum was quite good, and, as far as I can tell, accurate.

As I wander, generally aimlessly, through museums and historic sites my mind comes to think of time. I come to understand connections and recognize how huge and small things are at the same time. Today, in the Pope County Museum, I studied a simple display. It was a timeline from the founding of Glenwood through the present. It laid out what seemed to be a rather random collection of historical events at national and local levels. Looking at it got me thinking again how short time really is.

Glenwood was founded in 1866. My great grandparents were just children then. My grandparents would be coming along in a few decades. Three of those grandparents would pass on before I was born, but one I knew. Grandma Mondloch was born in 1900 and would live until 1984. She passed on just after I turned 13.

I looked at that timeline just as I’ve looked at many historic sites. I looked at it thinking in Grandma time, looking at how the world has changed in a lifetime that I knew and still know. It’s not a story in a history book. It is life.

Grandma was the third generation of her family in this country. She grew up with her native language. I remember my Aunt Lucille telling me once how she’d been angry that, as kids, they spoke Luxembourgish at home and that it was tough to learn English as a school kid. Four generations, it took four generations to lose a language. Now, we expect immigrants to give up their language, forget who they are not in generations, not even in years, but immediately on coming to this country. We do this while we still try to find ourselves in festivals and museums, German Fest, Luxembourg Fest, Irish Fest, whatever fest.

I kept wandering through the museum. I turned a corner and a small Nazi pennant caught my eye. It was part of a display of items soldiers had brought home from WWII. My family knew this war. I had several uncles who fought, and well, all families knew this war in one way or another.

Last year I went to Luxembourg. I saw memorial sites and visited museums. I also learned a little something about myself. I learned that my ancestry generations back was Jewish. My branch of my family had left behind that identity generations ago, but it gave me a different perspective on those concentration camps. Those concentration camps became the death places of unknown cousins, aunties, uncles. They left the history books and became real. I had an uncle, Uncle Clarence, who helped free the people in the camps at the end of WWII. I never heard him speak of it. I just learned it some years ago from a cousin. I don’t know if he knew, but he was freeing family.

I look at it now in the question of the detention camps in the US. Is it any different? I mean really, is it any different? Looking back, somewhere we are family. We are detaining our brothers, sisters, cousins. We don’t have that right. We who carry European blood, this isn’t our land. We are, once again, imprisoning those who come from this place based on silly lines we drew on a piece of paper and called a map. The map isn’t real. It’s our lines. The lines we’ve drawn. Why do we keep drawing lines? It didn’t work when we held the Japanese in detention centers or when the Germans put Jews and others into the concentration camps or when we held Native peoples in stockades or for that matter as we still hold Native peoples on reservations or Black people in ghettos.

Stop with the lines, stop with the pretending that maps are reality. History is short. It’s not too big to change. All we need to do is to listen to the stories, learn, and act. Take a trip. Check out a museum, a historic site, maybe sit with an elder. Whatever it is, come to know yourself, where you are. Reach for knowledge. We have a lot to do.