Scary but necessary


Sharing Stories
January 19, 2023 at 8:03 p.m.
Mom painted me as a young "little wife."
Mom painted me as a young "little wife." Ariele M. Huff

Whether you think of yourself as an activist for any particular cause or not, you are probably aware that a lot of people do consider themselves as such. Writing on MLK Day, the topic and how it has played out in my life comes to mind.

At 13, I was reading a magazine while awaiting a dentist appointment. Suddenly, I was confronted by an article about a peaceful demonstration by a black group in a Southern state. Fire hoses and cattle prods were being used on the group who had not, the article was clear, done anything to block or damage buildings or to hurt or even inconvenience anyone. Just meeting to be heard about a problem. A particular sentence gripped me in a way that was somewhat about my youth and innocence, but also about the awfulness it displayed.

The sentence described the cattle prods specifically being used with young girls and specifically on their breasts.

The effect on me of this was horror and immediately full body shock. My mind shut down in disbelief. These were policemen. And the girls were church-dressed. I’d seen and heard MLK speak and admired his kind and visionary words but hadn’t understood their reasons. That sentence hooked me. How could I not be involved?

I read more and did History class assignments on slavery and racism.
I can’t call myself an activist in this realm though. I went to one rally at the courthouse and was frightened by the Billy clubs and a rough push from a policeman. During my life, I have regularly spoken up about different things people have said and done—jokes that verged into sexism, racism, body shaming, cruelty of any kind. But, to me, that’s just daily decency, though speaking up definitely has some risks involved too. And, I have more than once stood between a potential victim and victimizer.

For me, some forms of activism are a little like rescuing someone who might drown and not being sure I’d be capable of it. But if I was the only one there, I’d have to try something. A mediocre swimmer attempting to help doesn’t help if s/he will perish that day too! This is a tip given at a talk by a policeman who said, “Never put yourself in danger without being sure you can handle it. Do everything you can not to kill yourself. Remember, two people struggling makes it that much harder for us.” And that’s true for activism too, I think. In general, don’t take on a job that you aren’t up to completing.

I do count my mother as an activist against racism…and she was well up to that job as a white teacher in a high school with mostly kids of color. She loved it too, and she loved them and worked her heart out in every way she could think of to make things better where she was. AND she did. Not brave about some things, but she was fearless in this pursuit.    

So, let’s go back to the beginning. Raised by two “middle children,” I was brought into the world by a couple of rebels. They tried out numerous religions and researched all kinds of fore-thinking topics, climate changes and legal euthanasia among others. They tried out groups like the Hemlock Society and a séance or two. They weren’t easily duped but did believe in a wide variety of experiments.
As the only “first child” in my home, I came in with some responsibilities. I was nicknamed “little wife” and “Mrs. Clean,” and used as a diplomat by my parents when they argued. My sister, born 14 months after me, was also immediately made my charge.

Those elements factored into many aspects of my life like my attraction to middle children as friends and mates. They are so exciting. 😊 However, like my family, they’ve needed someone to bring balance to their lives. And that’s me.

So, with all the choices shown me, I am an activist for animals. It’s the place where I feel my courage and determination are adequate to the job. I contribute to several groups, adopt only rescues, and in the right place at the right time, help the injured and feed the hungry. And, of course, I speak up about animal misuse or misunderstandings in their care as well as doing a column called “About Pets” for a travel magazine where I was editor.

In younger years, I spoke once on tv about animal experimentation as well as attending more than one march. I’ve had a foot shut into a door at a lab. And after the tv interview, I had dead rats thrown on my lawn as well as some scary phone calls.

Per activism, I’m more cautious than my parents or younger sister. I throw myself less eagerly into danger. But the training and reasoning about that method has had effects on me. And, yes, I saw my father leap from a moving car to run to help someone while my nondriver mother grabbed the steering wheel and, somehow, we all survived it. Both my parents took unpopular sides but also worked hard for things that everyone wanted and weren’t getting. For example, a crossing guard at an intersection on the way home from our grade school where a classmate had been killed.

The tenderness and generosity of my parents especially to the unfortunate certainly touched my heart permanently. Their courage makes me proud. However, watching some of the results of their brave positions and actions has made me more restrained and guarded.

Somebody has to make the cocoa, mop the floors, and wash the dishes!

Ariele M. Huff is a lifelong writer with 45 years (so far) teaching in Washington State and 23 years as columnist for Northwest Prime Time. Her paperback and eBook Housekeeping is an anthology of essays and a poem about household tasks collected since 1999. A revolution of sorts and many funny pieces. A few telling photos ;-)
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