Yesterday would have been my father’s birthday. While I didn’t dress as a pirate this year, I did find myself thinking of the many phrases and life lessons he used to share.
I find myself frequently invoking these little sayings – never volunteer for anything; the first rule of show business – keep smiling; it’s better to be thirty minutes early than one minute late; and of course, that unspoken corollary – always carry a good book.
But there’s one phrase I found myself particularly gravitating towards this weekend: Incite to riot.
Like many of my father’s phrases, it needs, perhaps, a little explanation. With my now developed New England sensibilities, I imagine modern Victorians taken aback at the phrase – raising a hand to the forehead, or perhaps, the chest, and declaring in a proper droll just how unseemly it is to riot. Why on Earth would anyone encourage such behavior?
Perhaps it was because he was a 60s radical, because he’d seen first hand what it takes for the people to claim their rightful power.
Perhaps it was because he’d spent years studying U.S. labor history. Because he’d learned how armed U.S. forces were set against striking civilians. How those simply seeking a fair wage and safe working conditions were beaten, abused, and eventually blackballed when their strikes were broken.
Perhaps it was because a riot in Oakland was just another Saturday afternoon. I don’t know.
The problematic tenor of “incite to riot” comes from the invocation of violence, a notion that proper people could never support. Indeed, inciting to riot means encouraging people to demonstrate loudly, publicly, and, perhaps, violently.
And while, I suppose, I can’t pretend my father was above the use of violence, when people start rioting – it’s just as likely that they’re the ones who will be hurt.
It’s not the strikers or the protesters who throw smoke bombs and shoot rubber bullets. It’s the State. It’s the suppressors.
So, I suppose, incite to riot isn’t just a fun way to say resort to violence.
Incite to riot means fighting for what what you believe in, and encouraging others to do the same. It means yelling until your throat is raw, It means breathing through the tear gas, braving through the bullets. Standing until you can stand no more. It means never backing down from what you know is right. No matter what the cost.