I’ve never liked that label. If you really know me, then you know why. I remember my first encounter with being called “militant.” I was in the 8th grade and a teacher asked me what influential Black (African) American I looked up to. So, I spouted off a few people and my list included:
Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sonia Sanchez.
*Actually, my list was entirely women but that’s a trivial matter.
This led to a string of questions and I answered them all to the best of my 13-year-old ability and was then called “MILITANT.” Sheesh…I managed to go ONE week without a teacher saying something sideways and three weeks, THREE, before graduation, I’m called a militant by my Social Studies teacher.
I was heartbroken.
I knew that folks got a sour taste in their mouth when they said the world. I knew that militants were looked at as troublemakers. I’d heard that people felt militants didn’t shower and that they just wanted to shoot everything and everyone down in their path (I was 13, highly impressionable, and had cousins who took advantage of that). I knew that folks did not like militant people and I wanted to be liked.
Besides, I didn’t believe in the use of guns (although I feel you SHOULD have the right to protect yourself). I didn’t believe in not showering (if there were ever to be an 11th Commandment, “Thou shall wash thyself daily” would be it). I was an Honor Roll student, not a troublemaker (unless you count the fact that I dropped pencils and knocked stuff off of desks because I was clumsy).
So I couldn’t be militant! There was no way I was a militant.
Well, I went home and I thought about my arguments. I pulled out my encyclopedias (yes…we had these because I begged my Mom to buy them) to look up the platforms that they stood on. I went to the library the next day (on Saturday) and I did more research on the people that I looked up to. I read archived newspaper articles and I even wrote a mock “Press Release” about them.
*My teacher knew I’d do something like this…he told me later. lol
I wrote up my findings. I even made him a nice poster, so he could understand exactly what I was trying to convey. I had a little speech and everything. *I was a trip.
Sidenote: I can actually remember my presentation.
So, on the next Monday, I found him on my lunch hour and asked if he had any time at all because I wanted to talk to him. He waved me into the room and said, “Sure Ms. Lawrence (that was my last name then). I set up my materials and I cleared my throat. (Now, we were required to do weekly presentations on the materials we learned in Social Studies to our class, but I was nervous. It was just this big dude who loved History sitting in this empty classroom. I could even hear the heating system kicking on and off).
I started with, “This country was ‘built’ upon principles of equality and fundamental rights that spoke to our humanity.” <— I should be someone’s speech writer. My teacher sat back in his chair and began to smile.
I continued with, “The historical record shows that only one group has ever benefitted from the system as it was structured — White males. Groups that have been seen as militant were often just arguing for the system to be restructured, so that they too could participate as full citizens and enjoy the liberties that have been set out in our country’s most important documents.”
At this point, I put down my paper. I didn’t care about what else I’d written down. Then I whipped out my poster board. On it, I’d placed major movements, political parties, and people and the things they asked for.
The heading, “What Makes A Militant.”
The byline: “I’m Militant Because…”
This is what my poster actually said:
*I will choose to exercise my right to vote, remain informed as a citizen in this country, and hold my politicians accountable.
*I believe that every child has the right to a healthy start, decent housing, adequate nutrition, and EQUAL AND FREE education.
*I believe that we all have the right to healthcare.
*I want economic stability in my community and I believe that we should have the opportunity to be business and homeowners, as well as shareholders in corporations.
*I believe in the rights of humans, which includes women, GLBT, children, and communities of color that have been oppressed.
I ended my presentation with: IF this is what makes a militant, I’m fine with that. I just hope that other people realize that what’s being asked is ONLY radical because we’ve been duped into believing that our resources are SO STRAPPED that competition has become a necessary evil in our society. Everyone COULD have the same opportunities to succeed here…if the powers that be wanted us to.
My teacher was proud of me (Sucka knew I’d go home and do that). Said that I needed to remember all that I stood for. A lot of people were going to question, point, laugh, and demean me BUT I had to remember these things.
So I do. I wonder if he’s around still. I hope so, kids today need an influential presence like him.