Most people, including myself, are not fans of being forced to do anything. What you would have happily completed voluntarily all of a sudden becomes a chore – an obligatory hassle – that must be done by a certain date. Just consider a book in high school that you had to read for class. For your 17 year old self, practice and movies and friends are all much higher priorities. You skim through the book, rely on Sparknotes, BS the paper, and make it through the test. The following summer you’re hanging out with a childhood friend and on the bedside table is the same book. He loves it. Why? He’s reading it by choice, and that makes all the difference. The joy is usurped by the requirement to read.

There is a reason rules and mandatory obligations are put in our lives. Most of the time, they really are in our best interest. I have found that to be particularly true this semester. LCWS has quite a few requirements for students to accomplish by the end of the semester. Along with our weekly field trips, we also must complete 12 hours of community service as well as attend a committee hearing and a protest or demonstration. I’m a go-getter, and I like to seize the day, but I know I wouldn’t be doing these things otherwise. I probably wouldn’t even be making time for service, which is something I am quite passionate about doing. The reality is, by the end of the workday, I’m wiped. All I want to do is scavenge for some dinner and chill.

But alas, I am rarely vegging on the couch. Though I may gripe beforehand, I have typically found myself enjoying these outings and learning a lot. Yesterday, I observed my first protest. Hundreds of young environmental hippies marched from Georgetown University to the White House to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline. Though they chanted “Hey Obama we don’t want no pipeline drama,” but they were certainly creating a social movement ruckus themselves. If constructed, this underground pipe would carry over 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. According to the protesters, it would have detrimental effects on the environment.

I’m not a very political person, but it was really fascinating to watch all of this play out. Regardless of one’s leanings, the fact that Americans have the right to gather and speak out against the leader of our country is pretty astounding. I heard it was the largest protest in front of the White House in years. What’s more, hundreds of them also zip-tied themselves to the White House fence in protest and were then arrested. Actions like that, where a real sacrifice is required, speak louder than the rhetoric of the speeches and chants like “President Obama just say no, XL Pipeline’s got to go,” catchy as it may be. They practiced civil disobedience at its finest, and for that, I admire them. I even think the president may be influenced by their actions. Also, most of the time I am so ill-informed about current events. It’s a neat feeling to see something unfold in front of your eyes that will be on the news later that night.

Here was another not-so-admirable observation, though. Many of the protesters dawned grungy clothing and were a few days overdo on a shower. Others were smoking pot throughout the march. During the civil rights movement, African Americans donned their finest church clothes to march. At work, we’re required to professional suits, our “costume of credibility.” I acknowledge that this look  is part of the stereotypical culture of this green demographic, but their appearance detracted from their message.

Intimidation factor

Then, there are the mandatory weekly field trips. For my Global Agenda class this past Wednesday, we went to the Heritage Foundation to listen to a lecture titled Fighting Terrorism under the Rule of Law: The Israeli Experience. You can imagine how excited I was about this. But once again, it was absolutely fascinating. Israel is the only democratic nation in its region, and it is faced with some serious military strategy challenges when fighting against countries who do not play by the same rules.

Colonel Eli Bar-On
Deputy Military Advocate General, Israeli Defense Force

Later on that day, the whole group visited N Street Village. This kind of thing actually does excite me. People are able to love, serve, and empower those in worse circumstances than themselves. That is awesome, and N Street Village does it well. Cheery and bright, the walls were decorated with crafts made by the women who visit or live there.

Then there is plain old mandatory school. I wasn’t quite as enthralled researching and writing about workers’ rights and consumer empowerment this past weekend, but even here there were some pros. It was the first legitimate paper I’ve written since, oh, last April, so it was rough going at first. I confess, though, it was kind of nice to grease the academic wheels and really learn something new.

 So I encourage you, at your own pace, go back and find that high school book. If you are anything like me, you just might enjoy it after all.

Post-Script: That is snow, again. I think I have mild Seasonal Affective Disorder. I am sick and tired of winter, and Virginia officially has its own bipolar issues. Seriously. It is March. In Charleston, it is currently 66 degrees, over double the current temperature here. I’d like to walk outside on a pleasant day, please.


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