Protest seems to be the word on everyone's lips these days. Sometimes it even feels like I'm in a real college town, what with all the demonstrations and campaigns going on around here.
My co-worker Keri, frustrated by the oppressive system we have at work for who gets to wait on which tables, complained aloud and announced her plan to bring about change when she gasped, "Why don't I ever make any tips? I am REVOLTING!"
I told her she'd just answered her own question. I don't think she caught the joke.
My friend Hero, also in the spirit of social reform, performed a small demonstration against the Malt Shop on University Avenue recently. He told the girl that he wanted the Wednesday student two-for-one special and asked for a shake and a root beer freeze. She sent the order back and then charged him almost eight dollars.
"Eight dollars! I asked for the two-for-one deal!"
"well, you can't get the two-for-one deal with the freeze. Only shakes," said the bovine employee, repeating the price through a mouthful of cud.
Well, Hero is the sort of being whose whole night can be ruined by one single interaction with an imbecile. This girl could have told him that he couldn't get the discount on the freeze before sending the order through. She also refused to cancel it. So he paid for the shake and the freeze, and when they came, he dumped half his shake on the carpet in protest. Then he said "whoops," stepped in the mess, and marched out of there. It was funny.
Meanwhile, real and actually organized protests have abounded recently.
One involved unattractive vegetarians standing on the street corner right in front of the restaurant at which I work, making out in their underwear and telling people to avoid meat, and handing out tracts with pertinent quotes about animals and their souls and brains from such leading spiritual and scientific leaders as Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson. As I've said before, I think there must be some sort of animal by-product in soap, because Vegans always seem to need a shower. These ones had a mattress out there and had adopted the slogan, "Vegetarians make better lovers." If anything, having mostly-naked people dancing about in front of our store only increased our business that day, and I made sure to suggest the steak enchiladas or the beef chimichanga to every customer I got. I sold tons.
Then there were some whose causes I respected a little more.
The first surrounded a controversy over BYU's firing of a man named Todd. If you live in the Provo bubble, you have probably heard whispers of this story. The reason I am retelling it now is that I have a little bit of ironic personal involvement in this story.
Todd was a grown-up who worked for the BYUSSR, more legitimately known as the BYUSA. He had a number of job responsibilities, one of which had something to do with BYUSA "elections." Over the course of his years at BYUSA, Todd noticed some unsettling glitches in the operation of the BYUSA electorate machine. So he decided to write a letter in the Daily Universe which decried the entire process, pointing out that an anonymous cadre of randomly selected students were put in charge of disqualifying candidates, a power which he inferred had been used unfairly by members of the group to aid their friends.
Certainly the letter was timely; this past election was once again riddled with scandal as students were disqualified for getting photocopies of campaign papers run off with a discount at a private copying center rather than at whatever the committee deemed to be "market price," whatever that means (there is a rule in the election procedures that students need to spend their campaign funds only on items they purchase at "market price"). The discount they received was actually available to all the other candidates. It was time for somebody to speak up, and Todd was our man. He mailed out that letter to the DU.
So they fired him. That's right, BYU fired Todd for publicly calling into question practices of the organization for which he worked. They offered him hush money, saying that if he would agree to not disclose the reason for which he was fired, they would continue to give him health insurance and other benefits for a grace period. Todd, always one to stand against censure and the man, refused the offer and sent off another letter to the Daily Universe. Soon a full-scale real protest was in full swing, with students duct-taping their mouths symbolically.
Well, I see some interesting parallels between myself and this Todd fellow....
***FLASHBACK ABOUT A YEAR***
Once upon a time there was a small community of smurfs that lived somewhere in the woods of Belgium in stone houses that looked like mushrooms to the untrained eye. Further into the wood, they had a computer, and it was attached to the internet, and the smurfs found a BYU website called the Hundred Hour Board, where BYU students could anonymously and cleverly answer people's questions about anything and everything. They applied to write for the Board, and were accepted, and in the time during which our story takes place, they had been writing for the Board for several months, and it was their raison d’être. Then one day a dark oppressive shadow loomed over their idyllic little forest. BYUSA decided to censor the Hundred Hour Board. The poor little smurfs ran for shelter, but they were too late. Soon all was black in their forest. Were they defeated? No. They made a last-ditch effort to battle the forces of the evil bureaucracy, answering questions just as they always had. One day a question came in about how to improve race relations on campus. The smurfs pulled out all the stops, giving an informative yet amusing answer, citing examples shared with them by real minorities attending BYU. Before that answer could ever post, however, it caught the attention of one of BYUSA's cronies, who was floating around in the smoggy cloud overhead. He sent the smurfs a letter, demanding that they remove any evidence of actual instances of racism on campus. The smurfs refused, and used the last of their energy to respond angrily (although cleanly) to this unreasonable letter. But they were too late. The next time they tried to visit the computer, it had been slashed to pieces by BYUSA, and they were never able to log in on the computer again.
So you see, I can totally relate to Todd's little predicament. But if you grease the machine for long enough, Todd, eventually it'll slip and cut you.
Also I should mention that this Todd fellow is the selfsame troll who was censoring the Board, and who kicked me off. So while I admire the fact that you finally grew a backbone and tried to take a stand against the monster, I still have to chuckle at the irony of the giant monster swallowing you up after you helped feed it until it grew big enough to eat you too. Hahaha, Todd. Seriously, that's what you get, especially when you mess with THIS smurf.
I'm not still bitter about it, I swear.
Later that same week, there was another on-campus protest, led by a group called Soulforce. Soulforce was a group of thirty-two gays and lesbians who decided to rent a bus and tour religious and military universities to help stop "religious oppression" of homosexuals, as they put it. Their leaders said at a rally the night before the protests began that BYU was the "crowned jewel" of the tour.
I didn't attend any of the on-campus events, but I came near the protests at the park. I couldn't hear much that was being said because the rumble of the generator they used to power the microphone was louder than the microphone itself.
Soulforce's points were many. They cited the numbers of gay Mormon teen suicides (a BYU student named Matt even took the mic and testified about his own failed suicide attempts), said that BYU students are uneducated about and intolerant of homosexuals, and basically just complained a lot. They said that their surveys showed that more than ninety percent of BYU students said they wouldn't want a homosexual as a roommate. I'm skeptical, to say the least.
Your name: Smurf
1) Would you rather have roommates who are gay or straight?
a) gay ___
b) straight _x_
2) Would you be ok with a lesbian roommate?
a) yes ___
b) no _x_
See? Even I don't pass the test. It's all in the way you word it. And I present as evidence to the contrary Asmond, BAWB, Toasteroven, Gravy, and the Snake, all of whom willingly entered roommate situations with gay kids and/or were staunch defenders of them afterward.
At any rate, I had several beefs with Soulforce's message.
1: "Religious oppression of homosexuals?" I'm doubly offended. I don't appreciate three dozen hippies coming to my school to tell me that I'm at once oppressor and oppressed.
2: The use of Gandhi's and Martin Luther King Jr.'s countenances in their logo. I don't care if they DID have permission from relatives of the two men. This was a cause that a Hindu and a southern reverend would NEVER have been behind. In the words of Alecia, my sassy black manager, upon her hearing about the logo, "Oh HEEEEELL no!" That's just plain offensive.
3: The issues presented were for the most part issues from years past. Today's political climate with regard to homosexuals is one of tolerance at worst, even here in conservative Utah. The head lesbian was a minister for some religion and proudly claimed to have been excommunicated thrice, eventually leaving the church altogether and taking up residence with her former visiting teacher. She delivered an angry speech, much like those presented by other alumni, about how horrible it was to attend BYU. The problem was that she was speaking to a bunch of students who currently attend BYU and were having trouble seeing any of the problems she mentioned.
4: The idea of the homosexuals blaming religion for the suicides. It just pisses me off. The problem isn't solely with either side. The problem is the imagined chasm between the two sides, with poor youths feeling trapped with a foot on either side. Religion and homosexual tendencies are not naturally at odds. For years, churches painted the picture thus, but our church has come a very long way in the manner in which its leaders deal with those who experience same-sex attraction. We are aware that feelings of incongruousness between a religion believed to be true and an immutable sexual desire believed to be false can cause great psychological trauma to our young people. But just when our little bubble community seems to be taking steps to find middle ground, the other camp pulls away even more vehemently, and those chasm-straddlers are going to find themselves falling to one side or the other or down into the blackness. We need to be closing the gap from BOTH sides.
5: They weren't friendly. Tell them you're a closeted homosexual fighting to keep your sexual identity under wraps until just barely after graduation, and they'll welcome you with open arms and offer you the drinks they're serving in the corner. But stand with the small peaceful counter-protest (as I did) and suddenly you'll find an angry middle-aged redhead in a pantsuit storming toward you and unsavorily unplugging your music. Many of the lesbians from the bus decided to smoke on campus, or march around distributing fliers and otherwise breaking the protest rules set forth by the university. The smoking thing particularly got my goat, since not only is it a BYU rule that one cannot smoke on campus, but it is also against the state laws of Utah to smoke within a hundred feet of a public building. When students (such as my roommate Asmond) kindly asked the lesbians to refrain from smoking in front of their workplace, the lesbians took it as an affront on their message and their sexual identity and refused to either extinguish their cigarettes or move along.
The counter-protest was kinda weak, really. There was an insane hispanic woman with two people I can only assume were her own progeny, shouting "Shame on you" louder than the speakers AND the generator. "Let me tell jew something jew don't know," she said to me, advancing until she would have been right in my face had she been a foot taller. I let her, but she only told me things I already knew or that I still don't believe, like the idea that the gay movement is secretly being run by politicians and filmmakers who aren't actually gay themselves but rather hope to make a buck off the whole idea. Then there was a guy whose wife and daughter were playing on the playground while he distributed his own manifesto to the classy tunes of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir under a banner that read "You want your freedom of expression; please allow us ours." Then there was me, standing silently in the cold with my arms crossed, the ever non-partisan participant.
Why was I standing with the counter-protest? I just wanted someone to know that Soulforce does not speak for me. I don't think I'm a radical. I don't imagine for one second that I'm typical. But I like to think I am reasonable, at least. I didn't appreciate Soulforce's rhetoric. I didn't like their tying depression and suicide to homosexuality. I especially didn't appreciate that they purported to represent me. AND accuse me. As Wiggle so often repeats, "You don't KNOW me."
My old friend LLama was the one person whose actions that day receive a full endorsement from me. He was out there distributing lists of resources for people who are trying to deal with homosexuality in a positive church context. Way to be, LLama.
So, the point is that BYU seems to be at least taking a step forward by allowing these protests on campus, right? Especially after the American Association of University Professors put us on its list of censured schools in 1997 after a female professor was allegedly fired for being pro-choice and feminist.
But wait, by some coincidence(?), the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities happened to be visiting our school that same week that the protests were being graciously (and uncharacteristically) allowed on campus. This is the organization that every ten years decides whether BYU should maintain its accreditation status. So the question remains, is BYU actually becoming a more progressive school, or is it just trying to save face for the man?
Amid all this chaos, the Mexicans are enojados. It seems they feel they are under-appreciated. I'll agree with that. On May first, there is to be a nation-wide walk-out for all trabajadores of hispanic descent. In other words, the Mexican restaurant where I work is going to have an absolute dearth of cooks and dish washers that day. The owners are considering making Alecia cook fajitas and serving everything on paper plates all day. I guess Alecia is the next closest thing we have to Mexican after the real Mexicans and the Chileans and Salvadorians and all.
Now here's where it gets interesting for me. Norma and the other cooks and dish washers have told me that I'd better not come to work that day. After all, I am one quarter Mexican, and would be doing my old abuelita great dishonor by coming to work on that day. If our restaurant weren't situated exactly in the heart of downtown, I might just ignore their invitation. And also if it didn't have huge glass windows that look right out onto the street where the main demonstrations will be going on. And if the cooks hadn't been whispering about how they fully expect things to turn quickly into a riot.
And really, I do respect their cause, and my grandmother, and all. The last thing I want to be is a scab. So not only am I moderately interested in their cause, and medium terrified of the prospect of a thousand illegal immigrants hopped up on tequila coming at me with whatever the Mexican equivalent of pitchforks and torches is while I'm at work, and extremely excited about the idea of a totally good excuse to not show up for work for a whole day, but I also am relieved when I check my calendar and realize that the whole thing is moot because I have Mondays off anyway. I think I'll go have me some all-you-can-eat fajitas that day, as long as Alecia's cooking.
So there you have it, folks. Three major protests going on, all of which really relate to me (after all, I am a BYUSA-censored, homosexual, Mormon who is descended from illegal Mexican immigrants), and yet while I feel passionately about each of those subjects, I just can't find myself getting behind any of those causes.
You want to know the cause I CAN get behind? Protesting Panda Express. Seriously, Gravy and I always talked about marching in front of that store with signs that say "Don't believe their lies!" and "Panda Express is chicken" and distributing PETA-esque pamphlets that explain that there is no actual panda meat in ANY Panda Express products. I can't believe the number of people who still eat there, seemingly unaware of the flagrant false advertising. I hope Vero will be back in town on May first, because I am off work that day, and I'd bet she would help me with my movement. And that day is perfect, because there won't be any workers there to come out and stop us. Because after all, not only is their panda secretly just chicken, but their Chinamen are secretly just Mexicans.