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24 Hours of Democracy

by Jennifer Powell

"Some day you'll stop asking so many questions."

That's what the algebra teacher wrote in my high school year book. I upset
him, because I wanted to know more than he had planned to cover in class.
Asking questions was disruptive. He couldn't cover the material he wanted
to cover when forced to follow side paths.

Now that I'm somewhat adult, I better understand his dilemma. Do we allow
the creative and the unusual to lead us out of our clearly defined paths,
paths that seem secure, planned, or at least familiar? We all have to
answer this question. We face this question right now.

Sometimes the questions are important ones.

My father's family was from the southern U.S.A., and I spent several years
there as a child. 1959-1964, to be exact. We lived in Waynesboro, Mississippi,
a small rural town. Those years were part of the Jim Crow era, and segregation
between white and black people was rigidly enforced by social convention,
backed with the threat of violence.

I was born in Toledo, Ohio and there I lived in integrated neighborhoods,
mostly because the people who lived there were poor, and had little choice.
When we moved to Mississippi I was curious, as a child might be,
and I can recall asking questions of my father when I was only seven years
old. Why aren't black people allowed in your store? Why can't they come
to my school?

He had no answers that satisfied me. He wasn't happy that I asked, though
he didn't take me seriously either. But because many people continued to ask
those questions, because many people refused to be silenced, slowly,
incompletely, a few very important changes did occur.

I want everyone to keep asking questions.

The pressure to remain silent is intense. Don't rock the boat, don't make
other people uncomfortable, don't argue, don't disagree.

But there is no freedom more important than the right to ask questions,
the right to disagree. It isn't easy to ask questions, especially of those
in power. They won't thank you for it. It's entirely possible that
no one at all will thank you for it.

Do it anyway, in the hopes that once or twice in your life you will ask one of
the important questions, and contribute to some very necessary change.

My teacher was wrong.

I continue to ask questions. I intend to continue to think for myself
each day I am on this earth. I want to be able to do that without fear,
without worrying that I might offend the government, or some other person,
and end up in jail for simply speaking my mind.

I hope you ask questions, too. You don't need to ask in hatred. You don't
need to ask with disdain. Just ask -- calmly, quietly, but persistently.
Don't turn away, don't ignore the narrowing of our freedom.

This is my page: Jennifer B Powell. You can return to my home page.

Last update: 4-3-97