resistance is not futile: resistance is everything

I think a lot about resistance: about what it means when ordinary people refuse to yield to powers much stronger than themselves. I've been thinking of the many forms acts of resistance can take, why people resist, what it means.

Last summer in Toronto, groups of people walked the streets of their city to show that they could, to defy the sudden existence of martial law that claimed they couldn't.

All over the UK, students are in the streets and occupying buildings, resisting massive cuts to education funding. The situation in the UK and throughout Europe is very dire - but the people whose system caused the pain are not suffering. A friend who lives in London and I were emailing recently, and she summed it up this way:
...they are closing libraries, cutting everything, raising university tuition fees by 200% and sales tax is now 20%! Bankers are getting huge bonuses still. We work with quite a few financial services firms and it's like they are living in a different universe. Although of course they are taking the opportunity to lay off as many as they can as well even though they are continuing to make huge profits. Barclays doesn't serve tea anymore at meetings to 'cut back'.

Some of my friend's British compatriots are employing a brilliantly creative strategy of resistance to library closures. (Many thanks to Deang for sending this story.)
A town has emptied its library in a bid to fight plans to close it down.

People in Stony Stratford, near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, have spent the week withdrawing their maximum allowance of books in protest against council plans to close it as part of budget cuts.

And today they said the plan had been a success, with all 16,000 books withdrawn from the library.

Today, as they celebrated the empty shelves, Emily Malleson from Friends of Stony Stratford Library (FOSSL) said they were amazed at how everyone in the town had pulled together.

She said it was calculated that books were being checked out at a rate of around 378 per hour - smashing the usual rates.

"A local resident mentioned the idea, maybe as a bit of a joke, but we thought it was a great idea so we put it to FOSSL," she said.

"I went home, put it on Facebook and emailed everyone I could think of and it's just gone absolutely mad."

They planned to start the campaign on Wednesday, but keen supporters of the library started taking books out the week before.

And in just over a week, the shelves were emptied, with the final books withdrawn yesterday.

"People were going in last night to get books and there weren't any left, "she said.

"I think it's a very simple but clever idea and it's given something that people can act on and make their voice heard.

I love this for so many reasons: how this town values and protects its library, how people united can fight back, how a few organizers with a good idea can spark rebellion. I also love the story because it's about reading as resistance.

Reading has been used as act of political resistance through the ages. Countless books and movies depicting ordinary people struggling against totalitarianism will bring you to hidden books, an echo of children secretly reading books forbidden by their authoritarian schoolmasters, now with potentially fatal consequences.

I recently saw this connection in two differnt novels. (Still in the works: a winter-break "what i'm reading" post.) In The Chosen One, an excellent young-adult novel by Carol Lynch Williams, a young person's resistance to her parents' oppressive religion - and a forced marriage to a man four times her age - begins with reading. Her rebellion begins in the library, until the library becomes - literally - her means of escape.

In Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces, after a man risks his life to save a Jewish boy, they read together, working their way through the man's vast library, the education of that boy becoming an ongoing act of resistance.

Reading as resistance isn't about beating the enemy: it's about maintaining some human dignity, stubbornly clinging to a shred of one's own humanity. That has been the case for all the subjugated peoples of the world who have refused to speak the language of their oppressors. At least in private, and often at great cost, people the world over will insist on speaking the language of their own people. It's a way of saying: we still exist.

Also in Fugitive Pieces, a shopkeeper in the Nazi-occupied Greek village hides oranges, saving the scarce fruit - and their desperately-needed nutrition - for the neediest families. The shopkeeper could be killed on the spot: hiding an orange as an act of courageous resistance.

Food can become an instrument of resistance. The movie "Hunger" depicts the refusal of food as the ultimate resistance: the 1981 IRA hunger strike, led by Bobby Sands in 66 days of self-inflicted torture. First we see an earlier form of protest, as the political prisoners in Northern Ireland refuse to wash or change their clothes, covering the walls of their cells in their own excrement, making their captors' jobs as disgusting and difficult as possible.

When the guards haul off the men for forced bathing - heavy accent on forced - the prisoners lash out with feet and fists and teeth, individual naked men fighting back against a small army decked out in face shields and batons. It's a stunning scene. I thought: this is what resistance means. Never going quietly. Never being docile. Fighting every inch of the way. Resistance means: we will not go quietly.

Michael Fassbender's harrowing, incredible performance as Sands causes you to question the very nature of human survival and sacrifice. Watching the effects of starvation on the human body and brain, you wonder, how could a human being choose this? Where do they find the strength? Inevitably, even a believer like me may be led to ask, what good does this do?

Then in the postscript you learn that 10 more men made the same choice - that the prison ultimately met all their demands - that during the hunger strike, Bobby Sands was elected to Parliament, opening the door for political recognition of Sinn Fein.

And suddenly the movie's title isn't about the needs of the body: it's about the human hunger for freedom.

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