‘‘Sometimes,” the maverick Michiganer writes, “change can occur because all you wanted was a bag of potato chips.”
He chalked it up to being 17, back in 1971, and confronted — in the form of a poster for an Elks Club–sponsored speech contest on the life of Abraham Lincoln — by the hypocrisy of it all.
It was the same Elks Club that Michael Moore’s father had planned to join, until he saw CAUCASIANS ONLY emblazoned on the application.
The same Elks Club sponsoring the contest advertised above the snack machine housing the ridged potato chips Moore craved.
Chips forgotten, he wrote a speech instead, featuring lines like, “How dare the Elks Club besmirch the fine name of Abraham Lincoln by sponsoring a contest like this?” and ending with his “sincere hope that the Elks change their segregationist policies.”
He couldn’t have been more surprised when his speech won. Part of the prize? Giving the speech again . . . in front of the chief Elk. A speech that eventually made the Associated Press, TV networks and even Walter Cronkite come a-knockin’ on a then-spotlight-reluctant teen Moore’s door.
Long story short, the Elks dropped their Caucasians only policy, with other private clubs forced to do the same.
It’s one of my favourite vignettes out of Moore’s new book, Here Comes Trouble.
The moral of that story, and many of the others that populate Trouble, speaks to the kind of 12 months we just had.
Last December ended with Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who self-immolated in the city of Sidi Bouzid because . . . well, who can really say why? Humiliated one too many times, frustrated one too many times, an act of protest? Maybe all three, or none at all.
Various media reports depict a man who didn’t hold passionate religious or political beliefs.. Just a simple, popular man trying to make ends meet and life work.
Bouazizi’s story, which became the stuff of social media around the world, is seen as the lit wick that ignited the Arab Spring. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali gone. Hosni Mubarak gone. Moammar Gadhafi gone. And the people in the Middle East continue to empty themselves onto their streets almost a year later.
Change can occur anywhere, Moore observes, “with even the simplest of people.”
Or the most complicated and disillusioned.
“Living such an opaque life has forced me never to take transparency, openness and honesty for granted,” the celebrated and vilified queer army analyst Bradley Manning once said. He’s now undergoing pretrial hearings for his alleged role in facilitating the mother of all US military intelligence floods via WikiLeaks.
Depending on who you’re inclined to listen to, you either see his actions as an unsurpassed victory for freedom of speech and anti-censorship — or an unforgiveable act of treason.
Time will tell.
Then there are those who calculatedly orchestrated the creation of change. Like Adbuster’s ballerina on a bull, accompanied by the simply worded question “What is our one demand?” that brought thousands of Occupiers onto city streets globally, not necessarily to try to answer the perhaps unanswerable, but to reimagine life as we know and live it.
In the individual acts of inadvertently and willfully brave people is perhaps the beginning of the end of the world as we know it, and all the inspiration we need to conjure up a few paths forward.
That’s always been the way of the world, after all. Just ask Michael Moore.