In January of 2009, I was a college junior at UCLA. As a nation, we were in the throes of the economic recession and just at the brink of the Obama presidency. I was a hopeful youth, a bright-eyed and bushy tailed, straight single white female basking in the warmth of the Los Angeles sun and the blissful ignorance of privilege. While millions of Americans were losing their houses and going bankrupt, I went to NCAA basketball games and spent my spring break in France.
Okay, there were challenges too. But looking back on those challenges, they were pretty trivial. In general, life was good. We’d just elected our first Black president! That skinny kid with a funny name! Hope and change was on the way.
So, when I signed up for Communication Studies 165, Agitational Communication by Professor Paul Von Blum, I didn’t think much of it. I’d heard Professor Von Blum’s classes were thought-provoking, and I’d heard he was a real character. A “personality”. I’d heard it was fun.
I read the course description: Theory of agitation; agitation as a force for change in existing institutions and policies in a democratic society. Intensive study of selected agitational movements and the technique and content of their communications.
I signed up.
Comm 165 was an incredible class. We learned about the Civil Rights Movement from someone who’d been there, as Professor Von Blum taken part in sit-ins in the 1960’s deep south. Von Blum was a character –a middle-aged, paunchy white guy with a stoop and a thunderous voice that roared throughout the lecture hall like a fundamentalist preacher. This dude was beat up by cops during protests in New Orleans? This guy was yelling about the importance of MLK Jr? Damn right he was.
Class was indeed thought-provoking. We discussed the necessity of non-violent, and sometimes violent, protest. We debated First Amendment rights. We held heated arguments about the police, the government, the rights of people. It was fun! Never before had a 6-9 p.m. Tuesday evening lecture gotten me so amped. I wanted to be a part of the movement! Some movement! Any movement!
But what movement? What would I do to get involved?
Protesting? That just didn’t happen any more. I’d seen a few union strikes on campus, but nothing major. Civil Rights? We had most of them (rather, I had most of them) and surely the rest were yet to come. Obviously, as we’d just elected Barack Obama! That was a movement, and America had spoken. I would do my civic duty and cast my ballot, and that would be enough.My fellow classmates were tolerant and accepting. No real need for this agitational communication stuff! Plus, protesting isn’t really in my nature. I’m a mediator. I like to help people navigate conflict and become friends again. Someone else will do it. I’ll just donate to non-profits. And I’ll re-elect Obama. That will be just fine. It’s not the right time to protest.
It wasn’t fine.
I was complacent and lazy. 8 years later, I’m dealing with the consequences.
Donald J. Trump was just sworn in as our president. Civil rights are in jeopardy. The environment is in jeopardy. Hell, I’d go as far as to say that the world is in jeopardy.
But, the time has come.
Tomorrow, I will protest. It is my right as an American to do so.
I will march. I will participate. I will speak up, and I will continue to do so. I won’t get complacent or lazy again.
If there was anything else I learned in that lecture hall, it was that when people stand together, when they refuse to accept the reality given to them, when they get agitated enough to say NO MORE, change happens.
So, let’s do this, America. Let’s get agitated.
We can’t risk the alternative.