One hundred years ago, in a Canadian city once referred to as ‘the Chicago of the North’, the working class had had enough. A general strike was called in Winnipeg with switchboard operators, called ‘Hello Girls’, being the first to refuse their labour. This work stoppage was the biggest and longest of similar strikes throughout North America. While the original intention was to seek redress for poor working conditions through collective bargaining, this strike soon included non-unionized workers, returning WWI soldiers and thousands of other people who felt disenfranchised. Much like today, those living in 1919 experienced a disgusting disparity between rich and poor: The few had much. The many had very little.
Strike is a word that conjures up decisive action. One of the first movie musicals I enjoyed as a child was ‘Strike Up the Band’ starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney cast as two young folks with enough energy to change the world, perhaps even take it over with their enthusiasm.
Striking can be subtle but still forceful. When someone in the fashion industry strikes a pose they are trying to capture a moment of body posture to maximize drama. In one of Madonna’s masterful music videos, ‘Vogue’ she works her image to maximum effect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuJQSAiODqI
Strikes can be lucky if they connote finding gold, or unfortunate if they come in threes. My mom and dad were two pack a day cigarette smokers (to my knowledge they never indulged in Lucky Strikes). One summer afternoon, my father took me to a baseball game (this was a rare treat for me as my parents were part of the lower class). What I remember most was the abundance of cigarette butts that piled up around his feet. We stood and sang ‘Take me out to the ball game’ at the seventh inning stretch, yelling this line amidst Dad’s coughs, ‘and it’s ONE, TWO, THREE Strikes you’re OUT!’
I grew strong in spirit during my brief time as a Boy Scout. My favourite activity was camping. It was where I first learned to build my own fire. We were taught how to keep our matches dry so we could get the kindling going on the first strike. What I learned in my scout troop I applied with happiness to camping trips with my parents, and later as a young father of three boys. When it came time to strike camp there was always a sadness. Packing up the shelter that was our tent seemed too sudden a thing after we had spent such quality time under its protective embrace.
In the nineteen fifties, I learned about the hazards of a nuclear strike. In the event that missiles were launched in our direction we were taught to hunker under our school desks. What naivety! My nine year old self wanted to trust that my teacher knew how that bit of metal and wood would protect her students. My almost seventy year old self shakes his head when thinking how ignorant people can be.
Tales of the resistance movement during WWII continue to fascinate me. Such bravery from those Partisans I can only imagine. They chose to move in the space between compliance and defiance. They were examples of people devoted to helping themselves and others overcome tyranny. Throughout the world in modern times there continue to be regimes/policies/governments/corporations that challenge us to choose between acceptance or rejection.
Resistance may be underground, subtle or go unnoticed, yet it is not a form of giving up. To resist is to take purposeful action. In human behaviour I see a Resister as someone who chooses to actively refuse something that doesn’t hold true to their value system. In electrical circuitry, a Resistor is a device that controls the flow. I find it curious how those two words, for only the difference of a vowel, can be similar in concept.
Consider for a moment that a Resistor’s unit of measure is an Ohm. Another Om is considered by Buddhists to be the first sound. I have often used that sound to control my anxiety. When I chant using that word I feel grounded and my thoughts cease to speed in whirlwinds about my head. In that moment of meditation I am a Resister and a Resistor, holding thoughts at arm’s length so that I can interpret them more clearly.
I met a Resister the other day at the grocery store where I shop. We were both in a line to have our purchases scanned by a clerk. We chatted about voluntarily waiting when we could have checked out faster by stepping one aisle over to scan our items via a robot cashier. We agreed that AI was taking over the world and we were determined to resist.
Cliches are worthy of resistance. I appreciate that a commonly used term may be easier to say while engaging in small talk, however a serious discussion deserves a more careful choice of words. For example, a well known celebrity recently announced his terminal cancer and was quoted as saying, “I’ll fight this.” Cancer talk is often filled with warlike terms. I find it upsetting that if the patient doesn’t want to fight the disease they are somehow deemed to be giving up on life. My late wife chose to resist the pull of death after her diagnosis by filling each day with amusements. June Callwood, a noted Canadian author, who died of cancer in 2007, resisted the common call to ‘fight on’ by refusing treatment for her disease. Her wonderfully watchable interview on CBC television aired mere weeks before her death is a testament to the term ‘dying with dignity’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Duif0tGZ4pc
When it comes to death, to quote from The Borg in the Star Trek universe, “Resistance is futile” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtEaR1JU-ps . The irony, perhaps, is that resistance can sometimes empower us to be an active participant of change. To rebel or to acquiesce may not be options. Resistance may be the middle ground where we can assert our unique individuality.