For several nights in a row, the streets and highways around town have been crowded with angry people. Some of them threw bottles. Some of them broke windows. Some of them set fires. Most of them did not. This didn't make it any easier for my son to comprehend. He is more than old enough to understand why there are riots in the Bay Area. He was born in Oakland, or more to the point, just over the hill in Berkeley. Berkeley: where protesters shut down Interstate 80 for more than an hour on Monday night, part of a trend that has become a prevalent tactic among those voicing their frustration about current events in Missouri, Cleveland, and New York. And it is making my son more than a little frustrated.
He drives now. He drives in the evenings on the highways around Oakland, because of his work with the theater department at his high school, he has had to take several detours and found his way home much later than he had anticipated with a different perspective than some of his contemporaries about the relative freedom of assembly. It's not free to him. He's buying the gas. He's sitting in the traffic backup. He's waiting for things to go back to normal. Whatever that is.
All of us are, but in the discussions that followed his run-in with stop and go traffic, he found himself questioning the motivations of those blocking his way. As his parents tried to remind him of the importance of making those voices of the disenfranchised heard, as well as the long and storied tradition of civil disobedience across this great land of ours, and especially right here on his home turf. Impeding transit is pretty small change coming on the fiftieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement. Those were different times, when heads were cracked and tear gas was used indiscriminately. Come to think of it, maybe things haven't changed all that much.
You might think that there would be some clever way to make a statement or to have your voice heard above the din. Do you have to break windows? Do you have to burn things? Do you have to stop traffic?
I told my son, "Yes." For more than fifty years, America has needed to have its rafters shaken and its bells rung. This is how change occurs. It is most decidedly not pretty and it is not convenient, but it takes a very complex mix of wrongs to make a right. Just like when you're trying to get home and you can't turn right because the road is blocked. You might have to take some side streets and a couple extra lefts, but it will eventually turn out to be a right. At least that's what we hope.