The Things I Find–#2

Here’s something I found on Brain Pickings, a newsletter that is a work of love for its author, Maria Popova

Each week, she publishes this ad free newsletter filled with all manner of interesting things related to topics of her choice. Links within each edition take the reader to the sources that inspired her comments. Most of the sources are either in the public domain or available through a public library. So although there are some commercial links, this newsletter is designed, not to sell, but rather to prompt readers to think, perhaps to pursue some interest they find in the material presented.

This one caught my interest because of the recent increase in mass protests related to political concerns. It was the opening lines of a piercing poem titled “Protest” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (November 5, 1850–October 30, 1919), from her 1914 book Poems of Problems (public domain | public library), written at the peak of the Women’s Suffrage movement and just as WWI was about to erupt.  “To sin by silence, when we should protest makes cowards out of men.”

Seeing that the poem was written back in the early part of the 20th century, by a woman, made me wonder if I could ever fully appreciate the importance of our right to protest. Beyond that, I reflected on occasions when I might have “sinned by silence when I should have protested.”  That took me a while as those occasions have been more numerous that I like to admit to myself.

I also thought that the word protest most often calls to mind action by groups, making public statements—marches, petitions, acts of civil disobedience—all of which can produce powerful results. But protest can take other forms. That poet, a female writing during the Women’s Suffrage movement, may have marched in public protest. I don’t know whether she did. But I do know, from reading that poem, that she “spoke” through her art, an important way in which protest can be lodged.

The link above (public domain) takes you to a fully readable, free edition of that poet’s work. “Protest” is on page 154. Once there, you’ll find in her art a strong voice raised in protest.

What are your thoughts on the forms protest can take, the issues that demand protest, and the value of the right to protest, personally, professionally, publicly? Use the comment icon on this post to open a comment window. I’d love to hear from you.

Comments (4)

  1. Kaye

    This post is so timely and very thought provoking. Thank you for the insight and the link to “Protest”- I will check it out

    1. Teddy JonesTeddy Jones (Post author)

      Thanks for commenting, Kaye. The poems in that book are so telling about the life of women at that time. I think you might enjoy some of the others as well as Protest. Keep checking back. I find some interesting, sometimes amazing things.

  2. Amy

    For me, knowing that I have the ability to protest, even though I may not be a person who is going to participate in a public march or rally, is essential. While the author protested with her art, I am able to protest on a personal level by have the freedom to select which causes I support and even being able to vote. My protest may not be as brave as some, but it is my voice

    1. Teddy JonesTeddy Jones (Post author)

      Thank you, Amy, for your comment. I agree that each must speak with her/his own voice, in the ways that best convey reasoned thought. It’s thinking now, of times when I did not “speak” without ever considering that I had that choice that make this particular quote important to me. There’s a phrase in French, that I cannot properly quote in that language, which translates as “the response on the stairs” or “the response in the elevator.” That refers to the things we wish we had spoken, but hadn’t the perfect words for at the time they would have held the most weight–the perfect response (protest) that occurs as one is leaving a situation. It’s those missed opportunities that I am reflecting on now, and with that, how when the fully formed response, or protest in my voice does come to me, it’s too tempting to not bother. Silence can be valuable in many situations, but I wonder if I have not overgeneralized about that value, telling myself that choosing not to act (protest) would be best when it’s actually what is at the time safest.
      Thanks again for taking the time to speak here.


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