This is a repost of my essay from the other day. The original has been updated. After I had it. Workshopped through Blogging 201.
I’m reposting the draft version as part of a case study I’m planning for next month next month.
Have you ever seen the movie Insider with Russell Crowe? It’s an awesome story about a scientist named Jeffrey Wigand. Wigand is a (real life) former tobacco exec who helped expose the dangers of smoking and Big Tobacco’s efforts to keep that knowledge from the public.
I love stories like that. Russell Crowe does that kind of character a lot. It’s one of many reasons he resonates with me as an actor.
In the movie, Wigand had no interest in becoming an activist. A series of complications backed him into a corner, and he had to choose between letting big tobacco intimate him and collaborating with a reporter. He didn’t want to be a hero in the conventional sense. He wasn’t chasing justice because justice mattered. He was pissed off and fought back because somebody fucked with him and threatened his family.
I’ve been that person. I’ve also been the crusader for justice who would take up political activism because it was the right thing to do and somebody had to.
“Live Free or Die” is the state motto. “Don’t Tread on Me” is…well. Complicated.
Russell Crowe mentions it in interviews when he discusses Wigand and once even referred to “Don’t Tread” as our state motto. That’s how deeply it’s embedded here. It’s in every elementary and middle school history book I ever read, deeply connected to our state history and the Revolutionary War.
In New Hampshire, the connotation of that symbol is about not allowing anyone (big government, church, social systems, corporations, schools, anyone) determine your life for you. At least that’s what I learned in school.
I used to have the patch like this for my jacket:
As far as I was concerned, it meant, “If you fuck with me–or in a broader sense, my country–you’ll regret it, even if it costs me everything.”
It was the perfect embodiment of my life, my rage, my absolute unwillingness to be bullied, beaten down and ignored (tread upon.) any longer.
But there was a problem.
In other areas of the country, Don’t Tread is linked with a racist agenda. New Hampshire is a white, Republican state, and it’s at the forefront of states rights debates, especially with the first in the nation primary here. So I’m willing to bet the racist connection is here, but I can’t trace it, and I don’t see it.
When I realized that, I decided to stop wearing or using Don’t Tread symbols. I don’t want the stench of racism anywhere near me. Even if I don’t see it or feel like “don’t tread” means I am a racist, there is a potential for the symbol to imply racism. I don’t want that in my life. This was a choice about compassion and sensitivity, not political correctness or censorship.
I made a choice to let go of something that mattered to me because racism hurts people. The small sense of comfort I get from having a patch or doing artwork with those symbols is not worth the potential for inflicting pain on other human beings.
But I would like nothing more right now than to slap a big ol’ Don’t Tread decal on my front door–on my blog–on anything that is “my space.”
My landlord is dicking me around. I’ve had problems with my plumbing since November, and I’ve been trying to get them to make accessibility modifications for 6 years now.
This apartment was rented to me as an ADA compliant accessible unit, but it clearly isn’t. They’ve been told by an outside contractor that the apartment is not in compliance with the ADA.
Because of the size of this apartment complex, they’re required to have a certain number of units that are in compliance with ADA accessibility regulations. That means the burden of getting these accessibility modifications done is on them, and they don’t need special permission from my doctor in order to do it.
They don’t need to do these modifications just because I live here. They need to do them because federal law says the building is supposed to have accessible apartments in it.
They’re still insisting that in order to do any of the work, they need paperwork from my doctor. I’ve told him several times that the doctor won’t sign off on this. I don’t have a medical need for a special toilet, and my doctor’s office never wants to sign accessibility forms without a visit.
The manager told me that the only way I’m going to get the plumbing fixed is if I can get the doctors to sign off on a special toilet. They want to install a high pressure toilet in order to save some money on redoing the plumbing/replacing all of the defective toilets in the building.
Apparently my toilet is the only one having problems this often. They been informed that the model of toilet they installed was a mechanical failure, and they’re having similar problems in other buildings. The president of the management company doesn’t want to replace the toilets with new models, so the only thing they’re willing to do is put in ANOTHER defective toilet.
So, obviously, they’re in the wrong, and I am furious. I could totally go Jeff Wigand on them, start calling reporters, start filing lawsuits. Hell, I could go Gladiator on them at this point. There is no way their actions are legal. I’ve been in contact with a lawyer and could start legal proceedings right now.
But I’m going to wait. I’m going to give them at least 30 days to get the paperwork and finalize plans with contractors (even though I know that they most likely won’t do anything.) before I even mention that I’ve been in contact with a lawyer.
Why am I going to do that?
Because I finally realized that I don’t have to be Russell Crowe.
A lot of his movies are about men who have no aspirations of being a hero but get dragged into fights for justice and social equality against their will. I feel like my whole life is been like that. It’s hard for me to say “no,” to walk away from a fight, or delay action when I’m angry. It goes against every instinct I have.
I’ve been fighting for a long time. I fought 3 different men who sexually abused me. I fought my mother when she insisted I was lying. I fought the police and the legal system. I fought for my education over and over. I fought my husband when he abused me. I fought the homeless shelter where I went to escape from him, and I fought my previous landlord over accessibility for years. I lost every time. Nobody has ever admitted wrongdoing or changed policy because of me.
Remember “Don’t Tread”? If I was the snake, the guy stepping on me would be Iron Man.
I do not want to do this again. I’ve been Russell Crowe (Jeff Wigand, Bud White, Maximus, Cort, Robin Longstride, John Brennan, Zack Grant, Noah, etc through his whole career) for years, and it takes a big toll. Hollywood doesn’t show you that part. I’ve smashed up against the powers that be in every way possible, and I’ve lost part of myself each time.
At the risk of sounding like a movie cliche, what I want right now is to be left alone. To build my catalog of published fiction. To build this blog and my facebook group. To build relationships with new friends, and to blog things that make me happy instead of constantly being angry.
There’s part of me that feels like this is copping out, giving up, letting them “win,” even though I know that isn’t true. I’m annoyed that I have been living in one room for four years while they fail to complete accessibility renovations. I’m frustrated that I need to have a plumber in here every two weeks. I know that the management is trying to bully me and thinks they’re getting away with it right now. Letting them think that just sticks in my craw.
But if playing along for a while will give me the space to live my life and maintain my mental health, I’ll restrain my inner Crusader. I know I’m in the right, but I’ve decided that being right won’t matter if the cost is another year of legal and moral battles that cost me everything else I value.
I’ll change my mind if the bullying becomes more aggressive or if I literally have no toilet. But for right now I have very little to gain by pulling out the big guns. Once I take that step, there is no turning back, and absolute certainty that my life will be miserable until/unless I give up and move.
I need to put aside my warrior instincts and find compassion: self-compassion. The kind that will allow me to bend if it means I’ll avoid being tread upon long enough to do the things I’ve promised myself I would do this year. I feel like “guns blazing” is the only way I’ll get what I deserve. Maybe it is. But it won’t make me happy or get me what I want.