November 7th, 2004

Aim It Right

You know that language in the Second Amendment to the Constitution about how, "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed"? Maybe the so-called "Left" -- which these days apparently starts with Richard Lugar -- should revisit that language before it's too late. Gun owners voted for Bush by a large margin. And the fact that they might be packing proves a real hindrance to anyone who wants to get in their face.

I can't tell you the number of assholes in pick-up trucks and SUVs -- stereotypically white in these parts -- I've wanted to step to for A) nearly running over a member of my family while B) boasting the usual complement of deeply offensive bumper stickers, only to have Kim restrain me with a pleading, "But that's the kind of person who has a gun. He'll shoot you." While I recognize the wisdom of that advice, I'm also starting to think that it might be nice to live in a country where the ideologues and no-idea-logues on the Right also had to think twice before inflicting their worldview on the bleeding heart liberals blocking their path to the checkout aisle.

Back when Bad Subjects started, Joe and Annalee used the handgun icon in one of Microsoft Word's alternative character sets as the publication's symbol.

A run-in with the UAW-directed leaders of the 1992 graduate-student strike at UC Berkeley led them, reluctantly, to do away with the guns, a decision they explained in the editors' column for the next issue of Bad Subjects, noting that, "if little pictures of guns are keeping people from paying attention to the articles, then we'll get rid of them: maybe now these same people will engage with the substance of Bad Subjects and not its symbolism." But they didn't drop their weapons without a struggle:

The original design of Bad Subjects featured computer graphics of handguns in order to suggest an attitude of militancy, something that we feel is sorely lacking among what passes for oppositional, progressive or leftist politics these days. But a surprising number of people seem to think that since guns are associated with violence, then the use of pictures of guns must somehow be an endorse ment of violence. However, to be militant is not simply the same thing as to be violent; to be militant is to be "aggressively active" in the service of a cause or set of principles. The great irony here is that earlier in the same meeting at which Bad Subjects was criticized for its "symbolism," we heard a speech from ASUC President Margaret Fortune in which she urged AGSE members to go and see Malcolm X, so that we could be reminded that it is right to be militant in the service of a just cause. For her stirring speech advocating militancy, Ms. Fortune received a thunderous ovation. For our suggestion of militancy, we have received criticism.

The response of so many AGSE members to our choice of symbolism reflects a more fundamental problem with the way in which the strike was conceived and carried out. Following the denouncement of our logo, we were forced to wonder how a group of people so upset by the possible consequences of being associated with pictures of guns could stand up resolutely against the professional bullying tactics of the UC administration. For it appeared that throughout the strike, many strikers were more worried about what people would think of us than about how effective our actions might be. In other words, somehow we wanted to fight and win without offending anyone, no matter how offensive our adversary chose to be.
The Bush Administration is considerably scarier than the people who were running the University of California back in 1992, though most of the latter had ties to both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Somehow, though, I think the argument Joe and Annalee make here holds for the present conjuncture too. It's time to stop worrying about what people think of us and start making them worry when they think of us. I may not be heading down to the gun show anytime soon, but think the time is ripe for the revival of the metaphor. Lift up your weapons; lift up your voice!
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