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Mar 24,   SusanDay on Being a Grandparent

22nd Feb Canst Thou Protest Too Much?

Like most people who have grown up in our society, I’ve always had opinions concerning many of the social issues that we’ve faced over the years. After all, I graduated with the college class of 1967, arguably one of the most protest-filled years I’ve ever observed. During that era demonstrations of all kinds abounded, from nonviolent sit-ins and marches to violent riot-type responses to hot button issues of the day. I myself have always sat on the sidelines, never feeling the need to publicly add my voice to the chorus of protests. On the other hand, I’ve never been shy either, about sharing my thoughts on solutions to our social problems with friends, family, coworkers, and even occasionally with a seatmate on a boring flight to or from someplace.

When I first moved to the small town where I’ve now lived for 43 years, I had no idea that I’d do anything different than I’d always done. I’d always let others do the protesting. But then I met my husband, a local boy who was raised here. He came from a poor family, so to earn his spending money he worked as a paperboy. He would borrow a nickel to buy a newspaper, and then stand on a street corner and sell it to passersby for a dime. Then he would repeat the process until he had paid back the nickel and had earned a quarter for himself, just enough to buy a small bag of popcorn and a ticket to see whatever was playing at the local movie theater. He was dyslexic, so he rarely actually read the papers he sold.

But when he grew up he became very fond of pouring over that paper from stem to stern. He loved to check for names he recognized in the obituaries and the law enforcement booking list, and especially liked reading letters to the editor. He often declared he was “gonna write a letter” on local issues he felt strongly about, but as a dyslexic he was never actually able to successfully put his thoughts on paper. Then I came along, with the appropriate writing skills.

One day, after we had been together a few years, he handed me a few lines scratched on the back of an envelope and told me to “fix it and send it to the newspaper”. By that time I’d been here long enough to understand the issue at hand, so I did as he asked. It concerned complaints about a stretch of curvy highway that meanders through Redwood National Park, carrying heavy traffic consisting primarily of commuters, commercial trucks, and tourists. The wide disparity in driving experience of the various groups, along with frequently wet weather, results in frequent accidents. So it’s not surprising that occasionally someone gets on their high horse and wants to sacrifice a few of those magnificent giants to straighten out the road. Locals who have lived with the beauty of that section of the highway for their whole lives always arise in protest of that. During one round of cries to change the road, my husband, a long-time trucker, had finally had enough, and handed me that envelope. I felt the same way, so the letter really wrote itself, applying my writing skills to his thoughts.

In the letter I acknowledged the difference in driving experience among these disparate types of drivers, but I firmly declared that the trees themselves are obviously the culprits responsible for the accidents. Those pesky redwoods have a nasty habit of letting locals and commercial vehicles pass without notice, but when they spy a tourist they don’t like they immediately hop out into the road and tangle with them. It was a light-hearted way of saying the problem was not with the road but with the drivers that didn’t respect it, so to euthanize those magnificent but albeit pesky hopping redwoods was not the solution. The letter was actually published, but to me it was just a ship passing in the night so I never gave it another thought. However, several years later when we were in the office of a trucking company that hauled on that road every day, we saw a clipping of that letter still posted on their bulletin board! You just never know how your “protest” efforts will affect the world.

The next time I felt the need to write a letter to the editor was the day that my grandson had his shoes stolen from a Christmas skating party for kids. I had just bought him a new pair of shoes, and while he was skating someone stole them, and left a pair of worn out ones in their place. As a sponsor of the party I was angry both at the kid who stole them and at my grandson, who had ignored my request to put them in a secure place. I wrote an open letter admonishing the parents of that kid, that if he ever went to prison they could trace the reason back to what they taught him when he wore size 2 shoes. The letter did attract a lot of attention, and four people even contacted me with offers to buy him shoes! So I got some brief notoriety, and he got 2 pair of school shoes and 2 pair of boots for play, one of each to wear right away and one to grow into.

The third letter I wrote was the icing on the cake. For at least 20 years our local hospital had offered standard “chemistry panel” blood tests at a much discounted cost to attendees at our yearly community health fair. As a WIC employee I helped at our WIC booth every year, so I also took advantage of those inexpensive tests. Then a couple of years ago I called to make my appointment as usual, but was told the hospital was not offering it that year due to “staffing problems”. I was livid. Such a selfish thing I thought, so I wrote a scathing letter to the newspaper on the subject. I expected it to be ignored, since it did not speak well of the hospital, a venerated institution.

So you can imagine my surprise when they actually printed it in the very next paper. But I considered the issue closed, and just skipped my lab tests for that year. However, I was astounded when, without warning, a few weeks later they reprinted the entire letter in a major headline story on the front page! It seems that it was part of an in-depth investigation by the newspaper into the situation. They included comments from local health professionals and community leaders, as well as an explanation by officials of the hospital for why they had decided to offer other more ”trendy” services that year.   They apparently felt the pressure from the community because the next year they returned to offering blood tests again.

So can these letters be classed as protesting too much or just enough? I can’t say. But I do know that it’s possible to make a difference with or without marching with signs, or making impassioned pleas via TV or social media. Just a simple letter to the editor can be enough to elicit change in the world, whether in a single life or many lives. I do believe that we can never peacefully protest too much for things we feel passionate about. That’s my stand, what’s yours?


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