The "bad" kids my mother is talking about were those I first met when I entered Junior High School. Most of them weren't really bad. Sure, they wore blue jeans instead of dressier clothes, and they skipped school sometimes. Many of them smoked cigarettes on the sidewalk in front of the school between classes. Some of them managed to come into possession of some small amount of alcohol on Friday or Saturday nights. The girls wore the horror! heavy make-up. The boys, more often than not, had long hair.
Though there was little if any criminal behavior involved where those "bad" kids were concerned, I was raised to be what school children used to call a "goodie two shoes." I wore dresses to school and wouldn't have dreamed of skipping class. Smoking was, I thought, a filthy habit, and drinking was just plain wrong. As far as make-up goes, well, I was sometimes allowed to wear a bit of mascara on very special occasions. Besides, I'd always been told that girls who wore lots of make-up were, well, "easy."
Like many school children, I wanted to be one of the popular kids. But the dresses I wore weren't the expensive up-to-the-minute style, and my hair wasn't professionally cut or coifed. I didn't have money, and I wasn't a cheerleader. To make matters worse, I was smart and I was fat. Because I didn't meet any of their many stringent requirements for fitting in, I was utterly rejected by the popular kids. I really only gravitated to the "bad" kids because I had nowhere else to go. The real irony, of course, is that the popular kids were often elevating themselves solely by making others like me believe they weren't good enough, but I didn't know that then.
What was important at the time was the fact that those "bad" kids never said a word about my clothes. They didn't make fun of me because I was fat, nor did anybody say a single unkind word because my family didn't have money. They'd offer me a cigarette when they lit up, but they'd do nothing more than shrug when I said, "No, thank you." And far from making derisive comments about my good grades, they were actually admiring. Some even occasionally asked for help with one class or another. On those rare occasions I got in trouble or more commonly when somebody else was picking on me they stood beside me without reservation. Yes, they broke the rules, but those "bad" kids were the best friends I'd ever had.
Over time, I began to behave a little more like the "bad" kids. I started smoking. I swore a blue streak (though never at home or in class). I dressed in blue jeans and t-shirts. Though I continued to get good grades, and despite the fact I never got in any trouble, my parents weren't pleased. I was rebelling against the rules, rules which had, I was told, been made for my own good.
When I look back now, I can see that there were some aspects of our rebellion that may not have been all that bright. Smoking, for example, isn't the best choice to make if you intend to live a long and healthy life. But I can also see that the rebellion was, in large part, being waged against rules we were rapidly becoming too old to need or appreciate, and some of which never made sense in the first place. We were growing up and, as every generation before us had done, we were stretching toward the freedom promised by adulthood.
As a young adult, I moved to the big city and worked in a professional environment. I left behind the jeans and dressed appropriately; I always did my best, worked hard, and behaved responsibly. Adults, in many ways, are subject to rules children can't imagine! But I had the freedom to make my own decisions, and that was enough. My friends were other young professionals. I was, if not happy, at least content. I was a good girl again, perhaps with less smugness than in my extreme youth, but still a good girl.
Over time, I started to pay more attention to politics because I came to realize the tremendous effect politics had on the making of the rules to which even grown-ups are subject. I wrote letters to my representatives, and I voted. I did my best to keep up with current events. I didn't ask for much beyond an acceptance of my viewpoint and at least some consideration for my thoughts or requests. Instead, because I didn't have enough money or because I wasn't a cheerleader for a particular politician or party, I got form letters or brush-offs.
I wasn't deterred; I was determined. We do, after all, have freedom of speech in this country! But one afternoon, as I was writing a response to a political news story I'd read, I found myself repeatedly striking out words and revising what I'd written. After several revisions, revelation struck like the proverbial bolt of lightning. I was stunned. I realized I was trying to change my words to soften them because I could hardly believe it! I was afraid of the repercussions of saying what I really thought. It was at that point that I began to take a long hard look not just at politics in general but at some specific rules that were there "for my own good." These days, I have more to think about than ever.
Despite the fact that I've been a customer at my bank for years and the employees there know me well, I have to provide a variety of identification for virtually any transaction because the PATRIOT Act requires it to prevent terrorists from getting funding.
Despite the fact that I don't match the description of any known terrorist, nor do I fit the profile of any potential terrorist, I'm subject to random searches at airports or on subways.
If I choose merely to exercise my constitutional right to assembly or protest in any way against government policies, the chances are better than good that the FBI has a file on me in connection with its "terror prevention" agenda
If I point out that illegal immigration is a threat to national security (for what it's worth, our intelligence agencies happen to agree with me), I'm racist.
If I dare to suggest that the War in Iraq isn't going well, or perhaps shouldn't be fought at all, I'm guilty of treason or terrorism (the National Guard in California is accused of spying on such "dissidents," and, as already mentioned, the FBI has acknowledged having files on many protesters).
If I intend to protect myself from people intent on doing me harm, in many places I need permission to do so (in fact, in some places I can be punished severely for attempting to protect myself no matter the provocation or the danger)
If I intend to harm myself by smoking, I'm strictly limited to doing so in only a few locations; if I wish to do so by ingesting or inhaling other substances, I'm liable to draconian prison sentences
It's been pointed out by more than one student of history that one of the best ways to exert control on a population is through the police. By making enough laws, virtually everyone is guilty of something, and the threat of jail is a potent one, especially to those who consider themselves "good!" We're now in a place where those in power are holding onto that power by making rules that devalue and redefine the liberties of everyone else.
I don't imagine my mother would be pleased, but if people who rebel against such "rules" are "bad," then I'm afraid that some of my current friends are "bad" people, including:
A man who inadvertently left a diving knife in a checked bag prior to boarding a domestic flight not only had the knife confiscated but found himself the subject of federal weapons charges
A man licensed to carry concealed in several states and who is also a shooting instructor got in a lot of trouble when cops in a state in which he's not licensed found that he had the nerve to exercise his Second Amendment rights in a state that doesn't recognize them
A man who uses his considerable media expertise to rally opposition to government invasions of privacy and personal sovereignty
A few who have joined together to publish a pro-freedom newspaper, largely in protest of the government control and the bias inherent in the mainstream media
Several who own their own web sites for the purpose of disseminating pro-freedom literature and commentary
A few men and women who write, either occasionally or extensively, to expose government wrongdoing and to encourage political action in opposition of such wrongdoing
Pro-freedom activists who range from grassroots opposition to various government actions to third party "movers and shakers" and politicians
And there are more men and women like these I currently consider acquaintances or role models, but who I hope I can someday call friends as well.
I don't know that my mother will ever really understand and I'm sure that some people never will that rebels aren't necessarily bad. In fact, that they're rebels at all is sometimes completely unintentional. But if doing the right thing, if valuing freedom and honoring unalienable rights, is bad, then I'm a "bad" girl again myself.
A couple of wonderful and uncompromisingly pro-liberty people I've not yet had the privilege to meet understand the sentiment well, I think. Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman recently teamed up to write a novel called "Out of the Gray Zone." The book features a musical group that goes by the name of Rebelfire which sings, "When 'for your own good' is a lock and a chain, and security's used to enslave hearts and brains, then out of our bondage rebellion will fly. On that day, the Outlaw, the Outlaw will ride."
The lock and chain is already well in place, forged and steadily tightening via the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and the ever growing desire of those in authority for increased control. Anyone who opposes that control is, by government definition, bad. But a character in "Out of the Gray Zone" says to another that "only slaves and babies stand for being helpless and controlled." If you don't intend to be the former, then perhaps it's time once again to grow up.
"Out of the Gray Zone" is available online via RebelfireRock.com. You can also download "Justice Day," the song excerpted above which I heartily endorse as the anthem of the freedom movement.
Editor's Note: See my review of "Out of the Gray Zone" here.
Lady Liberty is a pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House. E-mail Lady Liberty at email@example.com.
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