In the Face of Hateful Speech or Brutality, Stand Fast

A couple of friends and I went to a show downtown.  We took the train (Red Line.)

As we were coming home, we got on the train and it was obvious something was going on.  To my right was a very angry man, half speaking, half shouting at the mostly young and dressed up (like high school kids coming from a prom or something.)  He was really pissed and the kids were all staring straight ahead, either terrified or just hoping the man would lose steam and leave them alone.

The man got louder instead.  More physically agitated.  His hands were balled up in fists and he kept standing up and then sitting down, yelling to muttering to yelling again in turn.  He finally got up and it was apparent his intent was continue his tirade but right up in the faces of these scared kids.

I didn't really want to be involved but I also couldn't watch him attack anyone on the train.

Not wanting to create more mayhem, I simply turned my back to him and grasped both of the vertical handrails tight.  I became a human roadblock in between he and the rest of the train car.

He came up behind me and try to muscle his way past but I wasn't going to move.  He pushed me.  He shouldered me in the back.  I kept my face as neutral as possible.  Some of the kids were now staring at me.  I felt him slap the back of my head and tell me to get the fuck out of his way.

I slowly turned around and regripped the rails.

"Hey, brother.  Maybe you should have a seat." I said, quietly.

"I'm not your motherfucking brother, Brother!  Move the fuck out my way or I'll move you!"

I smiled as gently as I could.  "You're right.  I'm not your brother.  But I'm not moving so you might as well sit down."

And he stared at me with rage and intent.  I kept my cool, my heart was racing, the adrenaline dumping into my veins, my grip tightening until my palms ached.  A part of me, the Irish barroom brawler of my college days, was ready for a fight but another part was determined to not throw a single punch no matter what he did.  I was determined, somewhere deep down, that this man's actions would absolutely not determine my own.

After what seemed a few minutes but was more likely a few seconds, he dropped his blistering gaze and sat down.  I turned around, regrouping the rails.  The train came to the next stop and he got off the train, yelling furiously as he left.  I sat down.  A girl just in front of me, turned around.  "Thank you," she said.

I don't share this story as some sort of humblebrag.  The very mature approach I took in this circumstance was an anomaly in my life as most of the time, I'm ready to pummel or be pummeled.  I've often found myself on the wrong end of a bat or the right end of a tire iron and it simply isn't something to be proud of.

I share this memory because there are segments of people out there right now feeling that the election of Donald Trump is an invitation for them to harass and terrorize (and, in some cases, physically harm) people of color, LTGBQ folks, and women.  Not much in Chicago, New York, Boston or all of California but enough in other areas to be alarmed.

Non-violent, non-aggressive non-compliance.  Nothing more or less.  Stand fast and refuse to allow it to happen.  Even if you're scared to do it, do it anyway.  Human nature is that when faced with resolve rather than fear or anger, most people will back off.  It's certainly not always the case and my guess is if I practice this approach - one I get to employ as much a flexing of my privilege as it is a measure of courage - I'm going to be forced to defend myself as well as anyone I'm standing with but at least then there will be two of us.  The actions of these people, so filled with unearned righteous rage, cannot determine our reaction nor force us to escalate the circumstances.

Or, as Patrick Swayze tells his bouncers, "I want you to be nice until it's time to not be nice."