If you haven’t seen #WokeBaby yet, take a look: A tiny little person in a colorful knitted sweater and cap, hoisted on a parent’s shoulders and proudly holding up a piece of cardboard covered with crayon squiggles.
Imagine that baby, seeing parents and perhaps parents’ friends joyously making and painting signs to bring to the Women’s March. That baby wanted her own sign. Not only did s/he make one; her parents helped her show it off in real time. Much respect to them for their example.
But back to those squiggles: #WokeBaby knew that what s/he saw those grownups doing had significance. Putting words on signs is an act of revolution—and, dare I say, textual revolution?
During the March here in DC, the one I attended, there were all sorts of protest symbols, from a giant pink crocheted uterus to a massive papier-mâché planet earth to painted cardboard Liberty torches. However, tens of thousands more marchers carried signs with words on them.
Why is that so important?
Reading is revolutionary. For more decades than Donald Trump has years, the powerful (and, let’s face it, they were almost always men; we remember Catherine the Great because female names are anomalous in history) actively prevented commoners from learning how to read and access to written material. If people without status (money) knew how to read religious scrolls and tax rolls, they might start questioning how and why those documents were created.
Reading is powerful. Being able to read is a revolutionary act.
Writing is revolutionary. Once those commoners knew what bibles and doomsday books and legislation said, not only did they question them; they started to create their own texts. They wrote poetry satirizing gender politics, like Christine de Pizan. They wrote manifestos that challenged the Church, like John Calvin. They hid criticism of monarchs in dramas, like William Shakespeare. (Alas, also mainly men, because men were busy making sure women and most other minorities didn’t have access to education. . .)
Writing is powerful. Being able to write is a revolutionary act.
Knowing that someone may read your words is revolutionary, because no text is complete without a reader. The connection between writer and reader runs deep, not least because the connection between words and our human brains runs deep; words and language are our clearest ways of communicating. Yes, words are subject to interpretation (think of anyone who claims a holy text has a single meaning), but they allow us better and clearer access to each other than anything else.
Protest signs are revolutionary acts. They connect us to each other.
Connection is what any opposition most fears, because people connected through purpose can start a revolution. It’s happened again and again throughout history, and it isn’t always successful. If it were, we could all just make signs that said “Revolt!” and staple them to telephone lines and go home. But when people can read, and can write, and can make signs and carry them and come together and claim space to share their views, that’s the start of something important.
Revolutions take effort, even if they sometimes seem to take place overnight. Here’s the most important thing about discussing textual revolutions and #WokeBaby:
If you want to bring a baby to a revolution, it had best be a peaceful one.
Overnight revolutions can be violent and bloody and dangerous. The Women’s Marches around the country and around the world last Saturday were the antithesis of those things. People treated their fellow protesters with calm and respect. People stepped aside for strollers and wheelchairs and sudden mishaps. They shared water and snacks and email addresses. They laughed and cried and discussed.
Their angry words were on their signs.
Let us teach our children, even as babies, that that’s where the angry words belong: On signs, to be read, to be shared, to be seen. That we can gather peacefully, one million women and men and children strong, to laugh and sing and shout and show how we feel without violence.
The revolution is here, and it is textual.