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 Tabacco’s efforts to keep that knowledge from the public.
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. Would he let big tobacco intimate him and threaten his family, or would he collaborate with a reporter?
He didn’t want to be a hero He wasn’t chasing justice because justice mattered. He was pissed off and fought back because somebody fucked with him.
My whole life has been like that.
I fought three 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’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.
I come from New Hampshire, and I grew up seeing this everywhere:
“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.
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. It’s in every elementary and middle school history book I ever read, deeply connected to our state history and the Revolutionary War.
I used to have the patch like this for my jacket:
As far as I was concerned, it meant, “If you fuck with me, 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.)
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. Its big claim to fame is the first in the nation primary. So I’m willing to bet the racism connection is here. If so, I can’t trace it, and I don’t see it.
Several years ago, I decided to stop wearing or using Don’t Tread symbols anyway. I don’t want the stench of racism anywhere near me. (Even if I don’t see it.) 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.
I came close to changing my mind this week.
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.
My toilet clogs every 2-4 days.
They’re having similar problems in other buildings. The president of the management company doesn’t want to replace the toilets or fix the plumbing. They expect me to get a doctor to sign off on a high pressure toilet because I have a disability. My disability has nothing to do with the toilet, and what they’re asking is illegal.
Now, they’re insisting that in order to do any of the work, they need paperwork from my doctor for the toilet.
They’re threatening to charge me if I push for the plumbing to be repaired without a doctor’s order.
I could totally go Jeff Wigand on them. Hell, I could go Gladiator on them at this point.
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.)
Because I finally realized that I don’t have to be Russell Crowe.
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 Russell Crowe 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.
I’ve never had a happy ending. I’ve lost every fight. Barely came out alive.
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.
At the risk of sounding like a movie cliche, what I want right now is to be left alone.
There’s part of me that feels like this is copping out, giving up, letting them “win.”
I know that the management is trying to bully me and thinks they’re getting away with it right now.
Letting them think that sticks in my craw.
But if playing along will give me the space to live my life and maintain my mental health, I’ll restrain my inner crusader. 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.
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.