Matt Salesses wonders if the freedom to speak out, or the ability to change things, will be available to his daughter.
Yesterday, I cried for the first time in not so long, but for the first time since 9/11 for my country. Or maybe I was crying for my daughter.
In the last few days, student protestors, sitting, or standing with linked arms, were pepper-sprayed and beaten by police ordered to remove their tents from public property.
I have become afraid for my daughter’s future. The University of California system is one of the most respected in the world. So how can we explain to our children this:
We can write beautifully about what happened, as former Poet Laureate Robert Hass did in the New York Times, or stand up for what we believe in, as Berkeley professor Celeste Langan did, or respond peacefully and powerfully, as the students themselves did—but what do we tell our families’ and our universities’ and our country’s future; that is, our children?
I’m not sure. I can’t understand what happened myself. Yesterday, as I looked at my 4-month-old daughter, her total innocence and the breadth of possibility ahead of her, I felt sorry for her. I felt sorry that some of those possibilities perhaps do not exist. That the freedom to speak her mind against the rich, or the ability to change things, may not be available to her. It is a horrible horrible feeling to pity your child’s future.
I can’t understand seeing a line of sitting students and deciding to spray pepper directly into their faces. I can’t understand dragging a woman around by her hair when she has offered her wrists. I can’t understand telling the police to use force, if that is what happened. There was a point at which those university officials and police looked at the options and decided to stop change through violence.
I wonder, what was at stake for them? What did they have to lose by letting the students demonstrate? What did they have to gain?
It’s a simple question, stakes, but I don’t know the answer.
I don’t know why, but it seems that ordinary citizens have less power over what happens to them than I can remember. It is impossible not to note that the people with the most to lose or gain in these protests are those protested against, the richest 1%.
What will I tell my daughter when she comes home from school asking about the Bill of Rights? What does Chancellor Katehi tell her children, if she has any? What do the police who decided to use violence tell their children? I would like to know—and I say this not as simple rhetoric but with actual concern. I don’t know how to tell my daughter that she is not being lied to when she learns about freedom.
Last night, when I filled my wife in on what was happening, the first question she asked was what the president was doing about it. In January, President Obama condemned the violence against peaceful protestors in Egypt. How can I explain to my daughter that if only she were not American, the President would stand up for her?
I fear that the answer is in the stakes. There is nothing to lose if the President speaks out against the violence in Egypt. Is there something to lose if he speaks out against the violence in California? I don’t know.
In 2008, we believed we were voting for Hope and Change. I still have hope. I still believe in change. But it is hard for me not to see the response, and non-response, of the government as a sort of Wizard of Oz scenario, where our belief in a trick keeps us at bay from the truth. Except that what is in front of the curtain isn’t some all-powerful persona, it is something even more deceptive—it is the idea that we have any power ourselves.
How will the Wizard explain to my daughter that all she has to do to save herself is to knock her heels together and say, “There’s no place like home,” when she is already home?