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The Texas Observer The Center for An -iericart History University of Texas Press f.s7C CeleorciTion Ontl DO0h7 ni11.4″ Of ECKHARDT: There Once Was a Congressman from Texas By Gary A. Keith, with a Foreword by Al Gore Friday, Nov. 30, 2007 5:30 pm-7:30 pm Scholz Garten 1607 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin Music by the Melancholy Ramblers This book is part of The University of Texas Center for American History’s Focus on American History series. Dr. Don Carelton, series editor. Questions? Call 512.477.0746 .411.4.441111**41.10014104…1**-,-* door. “Shut up!” she yelled. She was furious. “Shut up! Just shut up!” I imagined myself black and here, or poor and here, or innocently charged and here, or even guilty and here, caught, stupid, trapped. It was the only time I’d had no control over my body. None of us had any power. She would not get her medicine. Around 4 a.m., our doors unlocked and opened. I put my souvenir cup and toothbrush in my paper bag and carried my blanket down the stairs to line up in the hall. No one spoke or looked at each other. One door in the block had not opened. It was the girl who’d called out for her medicine. “Hey!” she cried. “Hey, my door’s still locked! Hey, you guys, don’t leave me here! Don’t leave me!” We left her there without looking back. Nobody spoke up for her. As for me, I flared with anger at her, fearing she’d rouse the wrath of the guard who had the power to send us back to our cells until she felt like doing otherwise. I was too scared of being sent back to lift my eyes or speak as I retrieved my belongings, signed something, and walked toward the door. When I got out, I felt an animal urge to run. I did run toward my sister and all the other protesters who, it turned out, had camped outside the jail waiting for us to be released. The had brought drums and danced and sung and talked politics. They’d had a grand old time. They greeted us as returning heroes. My sister drove me to Kerbey Lane restaurant, and we had breakfast. Then she dropped me at the Omelettry so I could open the restaurant as scheduled, at 5:30 a.m. I saw one of my regulars that morning, an older woman who was a social worker and skydiver and did tai chi. She was the kind of older woman I wanted to be when I grew up. She said, “How are you,” and I told her where I’d been, what I’d done, and why. She laid a hand on mine. “Good for you,” she said. “If I were younger, I’d be right there beside you, getting arrested.” I wanted to be proud of myself like she and my sister were proud of me. But my secret fear was that this was my primary motivation and reward: to be proud of myself for doing something, however ineffectual. But I wasn’t proud. I wasn’t proud of leaving my fellow protester. I didn’t feel like I’d done anything to stop the war. It had been a gesture, nothing more. Rendering myself helpless in a cell, feeling how easy I was to control and to scare, cost me something. It cost the other side nothing. I’ve thought about that night in jail for years and still don’t have a good answer to the question, “What can I do about it?” I have come to know this: What I longed for when I wore my black armband and, later, my stripes, was not for Saddam to stay in power or annex Kuwait, or for our country to mind its own business, or any other reasoned, politically minded belief. Both as a child and an adult, my desire was childlike and simple and passionate. I wanted peace. I wanted my love of peace to do something. I once imagined a single fingertip of metal taking a long, slow path toward the breast of an Iraqi woman, imagined it pressing gently against the cloth of her gown and then rending the gown, just a little, silently, and then stopping exactly as its tip depressed her flesh. I imagined myself, on the other side of the world, eyes closed, teeth clenched, fists balled, willing the universe hard enough that the bullet stopped there, then reversed, withdrew, excused itself gently, and fell to the ground intact. I wanted wanting peace to do something. I know I cannot stop the war. I cannot stop even one bullet, not by shouting, not by surrendering my freedom, not even if I martyred myself. But if it’s peace I want, I can create peace, here. My circle of influence stops at my friends and family and co-workers, but I have a circle. The only governing body I control is my own, but I control it completely. I have no mechanism at my disposal by which I can know I am stopping war. But I can fight ignorance by learning. I can fight apathy by voting. I can defend free speech by listening respectfully. And I can champion human rights by suppressing my own impulse to treat others callously. I used to go to protests for the sense of community, for reassurance that I’m not alone, and for the feeling that I’m doing something for peace. I rarely go to protests anymore, but I still move through my life with the knowledge that every stranger is a potential comrade, and every day is a barricade. Emily DePrang is a writer from Pearland, Texas. NOVEMBER 16, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31