A bunch of my disability activist friends from all over the country were going to Boston to raise hell. They planned to occupy government offices, heckle legislators, get arrested for civil disobedience, the whole works. I was excited because this is precisely the kind of thing we all need to be doing right now. There’s no time for screwing around anymore! We all have to get up off our pampered little butts and give all the fascists who are taking over a pie in the face every chance we get! Here was my chance to step up and kick some ass!

But damn, all that marching and rallying outdoors? It can be brutally cold in Boston in November. So I didn’t go, which once again proved to myself that I’m no Nelson Mandela. That’s one thing I never liked about myself. I’m definitely no Mandela. It gnaws at me now more than ever.

Mandela went to prison for twenty-seven years. Twenty-seven years! I bet if I spent twenty-seven hours in prison I’d crack like cheap drywall and confess to everything from masterminding Watergate to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.

Oh sure, I’ve been arrested about twenty or thirty times for protesting. But they aren’t Mandela-type arrests. The last time I was arrested was for blocking traffic with about fifty other people. After the police warned us three times on the bullhorn to go back to the sidewalk or be arrested and we ignored them, they moved in and politely informed us one by one that we were under arrest. And one by one we all politely complied with their request to return to the sidewalk. It was all so cordial that I thought the police might serve us tea and finger sandwiches. But they gave us citations and said shoo shoo and we all dispersed. And I still had plenty of time to make it to the theater that evening.

I bet Mandela never got a wimpy little citation and then waltzed on off to the theater. That’s not how you break the stranglehold of apartheid.

If we all woke up tomorrow and everything was glorious and the sun was shining bright and there was justice throughout the universe, some of my disability activist friends would be bored out of their skulls. If there was nothing to protest they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. I need to be more like them because there’s a mudslide of crap coming soon and if I’m going to survive I have to be as strong as Mandela! That’s what it’s going to take to beat these fascists. Nothing less will do! But there’s a whole lot of things I’d rather do than protest. I’d rather go to a ballgame. I’d rather write plays. I wish I could change the world just by writing plays. I wish all the evildoers would cower at the mere thought of me writing a play. But, sadly, they don’t seem to take note at all.

Protesting stresses me out. Writing leaflets and making signs. Planning and strategizing. Making sure the bullhorn batteries are good. And then all the marching in the cold or rain. If my motorized wheelchair gets waterlogged it stops working. Or maybe we’ll march in the blazing sun and if I don’t spackle on the sunscreen I’ll get a third-degree burn.

All this stresses me out big time. But the only thing that stresses me out more is sitting back and doing nothing. So I protest. I have no choice. It’s the only way to relieve the intimidating stress of inertia.

But I’m no Mandela.

Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. He blogs at Smart Ass Cripple"expressing pain through sarcasm since 2010."

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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