by Cathy Good Lockman ’79
Somewhere, sometime, you’ve likely heard this advice: “If you can’t say something nice, it’s better to say nothing at all.” I remember saying it myself as a Millikin freshman 35 years ago and getting a well-deserved eye roll from a Walker Hall floor mate, who, despite that gesture, became a lifelong friend. A small sign now displayed in her home provides a different take on that same advice: “If you can’t say something nice, then by all means come sit over here by me.”
I was reminded of that funny sign of hers and that naïve adage of mine in October when I traveled 1,300 miles in two days on a “luxury” Millikin-sponsored bus to spend three hours standing on the National Mall with 250,000 others at the “Rally to Restore Sanity.” My college-aged daughter, though proud of my sense of adventure, was sure that her 53-year-old mother would be the oldest participant. She couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, there were throngs of young people, and most of them were closest to the stage - after all, we older people have our limits on how early we’re willing to get to an event and how long we’re willing to stand in one place, especially to hear Ozzy Osbourne belt out “Crazy Train.” But there were thousands of people like me, outside the “Daily Show” demographic of 18 to 35, who ventured to the nation’s capital. And we didn’t even know we’d get to see Cat Stevens sing “Peace Train” and the O’Jays perform “Love Train.”
So what moved young and old to come? Conversations I had, as well as those I eavesdropped on (14 hours is a long time on a bus), provided some answers. Many were Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert fans making the trip to see the duo’s comedy and political skewering in person. Others heard there would be big-name musical acts and came for the free concert. Some just wanted to be part of the “happening” or were looking for a great place to show off their Halloween costumes; they added to the “insanity” quotient. But the majority of people I talked to, including the Millikin contingent of students, faculty and alumni, came with something more inspiring in mind - they wanted to lend their support to the idea that the tenor of political dialogue in our country has gotten out of hand and that as Stewart suggested: “We need to take it down a notch, America.”
Some carried signs that mimicked Stewart’s sentiment, like the teacher who urged people to “Use your indoor voice” or the middle-aged man whose banner advised, “If you keep shouting like that, you’ll get big muscles all over your face.” There was a librarian’s request, “Shhh. I’m listening to the opinions of others,” and a fluorescent poster that read, “Being loud, rude and ignorant is not a political movement, it’s just bad manners.”
Of course, some ralliers had more of a political ax to grind, but most were reasonable, many were clever and some were downright funny. They carried signs like, “Congress should do stuff,” “Obama: He’s probably not trying to destroy America,” “I’m pretty sure nobody likes taxes,” “I disagree with you, but I don’t think you’re Hitler” and my personal favorite, “I’m not afraid of Muslims, tea partiers, socialists, immigrants, gun owners, or gays, but I’m really scared of spiders.”
Some pundits criticized the rally, saying it was long on entertainment and short on substance, and while that may be true, everyone I spoke with came away feeling they had made an important personal statement by attending - namely, that the way we talk to each other really matters.
Which brings me back to that polite “say-nothing-at-all” advice. Obviously, it’s not a great philosophy for bridging differences, since nothing changes if you don’t voice your opinion. Likewise, little progress is made if you always take the “come-over-here-and-sit-by-me” approach. After all, sharing your ideas with those who are like-minded doesn’t do much to initiate new dialogue.
That leaves one option for opening the doors to change, and that’s engaging in civilized debate. A sign I saw as I left the Rally put it this way, “We should all talk sanely more often.” Or as one of my Millikin professors said many years ago: “Even if you don’t have anything nice to say, you still have to find a way to say it nicely.”
I doubt my friend would roll her eyes at that.
Cathy Good Lockman ’79 was one of more than 100 MU students and friends making the trip from Millikin in two buses to the “Rally to Restore Sanity” in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 30. The group rode 14 hours to D.C., spent 12 hours in the city and rode 14 hours back.
“Even though this was a whirlwind adventure, it was the trip of a lifetime,” says trip organizer Bobbi Gentry, assistant professor of political science. “Many students had never been to a rally and were able to witness firsthand how people-politics really works.”