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Fight the Power

by Kelly Chopus

July 5,2006

It has been a long summer already. The family and I left Charlotte for northern parts (wedding and then vacation) in early June and traveled by car from Maine to North Carolina. A two day stint in Boston, birthplace of independence and some serious civil disobedience prompted my latest reflections on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Mostly I am wondering if this generation, my generation, compares in the least bit to our forefathers and foremothers.

The recent death of celebrated and beloved community activist Joe Martin further spurred my need for an unscientific survey. Charlotte needs some good old fashioned dissenters like Mr. Martin. We also need malcontents (in the most positive and affirming way of course) and reformers with an eye on shaking things up around here…and very thick skin. People not afraid to have an opinion that is different and maybe just a little unpopular. People willing to shout those opinions from the most hallowed grounds. Who will step into those very big shoes? In Mr. Martin’s case, those hallowed grounds included city council meetings, board rooms and our most fragile neighborhoods.

Enjoying the restorative powers of a five day July 4th weekend with a good book reminded me that this country was founded on principles of ground swell participation. Revolutionary patriots created the process – they perfected the art of spontaneous uprising and power to the people. I love the 4th of July holiday and the chance to honor that chutzpah. Just think of where we would be today if not for our ancestors – ordinary people who banded together and challenged community standards. We could be Russia. Or Iraq.

President John Adams, second to take over the national reigns after George Washington, envisioned July 4th as a grand celebration of our then young nation. It was he who suggested the commemoration soon after he and fellow rabble rousers signed our Declaration of Independence. He even came up with the idea for the first national fireworks display. Adams really “got” the notion of creating community – and he did it right. Reward the extraordinary efforts of so many ordinary people with a multi-region party. Charlotte could do that.

It seems to me that Charlotte has always been missing that last little piece of rabble rousing. Having lived here for 4 years now, I can say truthfully that I have oft looked for trouble, just to see if I could find it (yes, that really is another column). I don’t see much conflict or dissent. Well, if you count school board meetings…but I digress. When was the last time any of us protested in the streets like our revolutionary ancestors? If you are like me, you have plenty to rise up against, the state of our public schools, our fragile neighborhoods, high taxes and the list goes on. Stirring the pot and shaking up the status quo. Where is the outrage? The public display of disappointment in elected officials? Maybe our forefathers and foremothers were on to something with that little Boston Tea tax thing.

Lately, everywhere I look in Charlotte I see people acquiescing. Letting decisions which affect their lives be made by others. Not disagreeing for fear of being ostracized. Or worse. Labeled. Fighting the good fight is just too arduous my friends say. We are all just too busy, with kids, jobs, and other obligations to get really involved say others. I reply to friends that you can’t control your own destiny if you allow yourself to be cc’d in life.

That brings me back to Mr. Martin. Brother of a Governor, confidante to Charlotte elite, this man gave voice to the inadequacies of our town when our town was just beginning to think it could be “great.” Without his efforts to facilitate race relations and diversity issues, Charlotte might be a vastly different southern city right now. And not so great. While I did not know Mr. Martin personally, I am thankful for his strength and thankful for his special brand of patriotism. Charlotte is a city on track because of him and the people he influenced.

Moral of our story? Be a patriot. Or a hippie. Don’t stick with the status quo. Shake it up. Fight the man. Educate. Agitate. Organize!

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