-- Some spoilers herein --
My daughter's teacher told me of some books she's been reading to my daughter's class this year -- Among the Hidden and Among the Impostors from the "Shadow Children" series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. The stories are dystopian futures for youth readers, not unlike The Hunger Games
or Divergent, but for a slightly younger audience. In Haddix's Shadow Children books, third children are illegal in this post-famine totalitarian state. The first two books follow the story of Luke, a third child. In the first book, he's in hiding in his family home. In the second, he's at a school under a fake ID.
What struck me, when reading these books, is that the main character, Luke, fails to act. Unlike many science fiction and fantasy books where the main character becomes the central character in the struggle for justice or freedom, Luke, at least in these two books, does not. In the first book, he's invited by his friend Jen to join in a rally for freedom and rights for third children. Luke is afraid, and does not go. In the second book, children are banding together, sharing their real names and starting to organize for another stand for justice. Luke hangs back, and doesn't admit to also being a third child. I haven't read all the books, and it's possible he becomes more of a leader in future books, but in the first two he's not even a follower -- he stands out of the action entirely in the first book, and in the second only really acts when attacked, and then in self-preservation, not in a call for more justice.
How strange, I thought, to read the story of someone who doesn't take up the fight, who waits it out in fear. It's a story of how many, even most, of us react in times of fear and persecution. But it's not usually the subject of a novel, which usually focuses in on the savior character -- the Ender, the Katniss, the Luke Skywalker hero figure.
The world relies on the Jens to get out there and make a stand and lead the rally, but the world is full of Lukes, who hang back out of fear, and protect themselves. And that's okay, especially for children, and especially for those for whom it is most dangerous to speak out.
As a faith leader, I think often about what stands I'm willing to fight for, and to what extent. There are ministers in our movement who were arrested in Phoenix for a stand they took against immigration policies and the inhumane "Tent City" there. With a young child at home, I'm not anxious to risk imprisonment, although I respect greatly those who are.
In other ways, perhaps I risk a great deal, putting my name out there in the media on controversial issues. And maybe I'm only willing to do that when I disregard the risk as minimal. There is violence that happens along and along against liberals who take public stands, but so far I've never encountered any.
The cause of justice has a lot of room for a lot of different levels of action. Not everyone needs to be Martin Luther King, Jr. There are a lot of degrees of action one can take. I've appreciated in some protests I've been at, that there's been
material distributed that essentially asked people to go different
places and do different actions based on how willing they were to be in
the front line, and how willing to be arrested. Sometimes there are different roles prescribed for faith leaders, and sometimes separate areas for those willing and prepared to speak to the media. There are different roles that are helpful and available in social action -- we need people to write letters, and we need people to talk to the media, and we need people to network with friends, and we need people to sometimes risk arrest and retribution.
I suspect that by book four, Luke will be much more involved in actively fighting for the rights for third children, but so far I've enjoyed the story of one who hung back from action, who watched it from the sidelines. Sometimes it's okay to stand in the shadows, too.