Mainstream moves toward freedom
By Lady Liberty
Many years ago (never you mind how many), I wanted to get my ears pierced. My mother wasn't keen on the idea. My grandmother, however, was horrified. With a sniff, she informed me that, "Only prostitutes have pierced ears!" Now, while that may have been true once upon a time, it certainly wasn't the case when many of my little girlfriends had pierced ears and I felt like I was the only one who didn't. In the end, I got my ears pierced, and Grandma died (I trust the two events weren't related) still disdaining my jewelry.
The response to the request for pierced ears was positively staid in comparison to my stated desire a couple of years later to get a tattoo. Plenty of words were exchanged, many at high volume, but the gist of them all was, "Only criminals have tattoos!" and "You're getting a tattoo over my dead body!" (Actually, if I'd gone ahead and gotten the tattoo, I'm pretty sure it would have been my dead body, but you get the point.) Eventually — and long after I needed anybody's permission to do so — I did get my first tattoo (of which my parents still disapproved, but when your "child" is pushing 30, grounding him or her is sort of out of the question).
Today, virtually all girls seem to have pierced ears and they've been joined by many of the boys. And, of course, it goes without saying that ears aren't the only things being pierced with regularity any more. Tattoos are largely mainstream as well, and you'll see them on everyone from fraternity boys to investment bankers, and from models to school teachers. None of these things are wrong nor are they viewed with much disdain any more (outside of those who take the body decorations to the extreme). I personally consider them nothing more or less than the exercise of a little personal free expression.
If you want to name one group that's almost uniformly a good example of free expression, I suppose you could single out artists or writers. Certainly a case could be made for reporters or actors as well. But to me, there's another group that's an even better example not merely because they express themselves so overtly, but because they often live their notions of freedom just as overtly and are so supportive of freedom for others at the same time. That group is made up of bikers (who coincidentally or not have long typically been pierced and tattooed).
Much as "only prostitutes have pierced ears" or "only criminals have tattoos," bikers have historically gotten something of a bad rap. At times, a few of them have even deserved it. But just as piercings and tattoos have become more acceptable by the mainstream, so too have motorcycle riders. Daytona's (Florida) Bike Week is well attended by bikers and bystanders alike; the annual Sturgis (South Dakota) Bike Rally brings upwards of half a million people to that small town for a week every August.
This weekend, there was an event relatively near where I live. I took the opportunity to head out to see some beautiful custom bikes and the men and women who ride them (the live bands and carnival atmosphere were almost incidental as far as I was concerned). I saw lots of piercings and tattoos, of course, and a veritable sea of black leather.
But in the midst of it all, there were two things I found especially interesting. One of them was taking note that the most common decorations on customized bikes, jackets, or tattooed arms and chests were symbols of America. Flags, eagles, and military emblems were everywhere. The other was to find that, weaving their way though the crowds of patriotic bikers, were little old ladies in polyester; kids in sagging pants; men in golf clothes; society women wearing lipstick and sandals; and teens trying to look cool (despite being seriously outcooled by the crowd with which they were mingling).
The bikers that I know are typically bemused by the attention they sometimes get. Outside of rallies, most of them wouldn't necessarily draw your attention if you passed them on the street. But whether they're on their bikes or at their jobs, and whether you talk to them one on one or in the midst of a big block party, you're going to get one overall impression from virtually every single one of them: they embrace the bike "culture" because it, in turn, embraces freedom.
You might not suppose that many bikers — especially the ones who live the life all the time, not just at rallies — are interested in current events. You might not think they're particularly smart or overly educated. In most cases, you'd be wrong. Bikers aren't a lot different from the general public in that regard. Well, actually, they just might be. With their already obvious appreciation for liberty and love for American ideals, many are a whole lot less inclined than Joe Average to excuse government infringements of freedom. And after a few conversations I had this weekend, I can tell you something else: some of them aren't too thrilled with what's happening to our country right now.
Many freedom fighters face some of the same hurdles that bikers do. Bikers, at least in some circles, still have a reputation of being scary guys, while freedom fighters are all too often equated with some fringe militia movement or another rather than with legitimate political activism or education efforts. While it's perfectly fair to say that some bikers are kind of scary and that there are a few radical wannabe militia members out there, the reality is that all the vast majority of bikers want is the freedom to ride and to live their lives without interference, and freedom fighters are working for pretty much the same thing.
I take a certain amount of hope from the fact that bikers, so recently feared or even reviled, are now becoming rapidly welcomed into the mainstream (I'm cynical enough to believe that some of that welcome is due to the fact that rallies mean money spent in local bars, restaurants, and shops, but I'll take the open arms where I can find them). Maybe freedom fighters will actually be considered more broadly acceptable next. And the minute that happens, Washington had better watch out. If there's one thing freedom fighters are good at, it's explaining their position on the issues, and you had better believe they'll explain it as loudly as any Harley engine ever thought of revving given the chance to do so.
If you've ever seen a parade of Harleys riding into a rally, then you know the thunder of sound that accompanies them. Now imagine for a minute the thunder of freedom fighters and their causes gone mainstream — and onto the Washington Mall! The potential is there. Certainly Washington has lately given us plenty of causes to work with and rally against, and without question the underpinnings of massive protests are already in place (look no further than the state legislatures and privacy advocates protesting REAL ID, and the civil libertarians who continue to fight the PATRIOT Act).
There's one other thing from this weekend that gives me hope (oh, all right, and a boost to the ego besides), and that was the reaction to my latest tattoo only recently inked on my left calf. At a tattoo contest in which I was entered, I got dozens of comments and a couple of requests for photographs. At the rally I attended this weekend, I was actually stopped on more than one occasion by people who wanted a closer look and who then told me what a wonderful tattoo I had. Some of them wanted pictures, too.
At one point, I even had one man kneel down and tell those nearby that he was going to kiss my tattoo, and that it was his opinion that, "Everybody here should be kissing this!" (Yes, he'd had a few too many, and yes, he actually did end up kissing my leg. But the really good news is that the few people who heard him agreed with him.)
Why is all this attention at all hopeful for the cause of freedom? Because while my newest tattoo is something that means a good deal to me, I'm exceedingly gratified to learn it apparently still means something to a lot of other people, too. And what, pray tell, is this glorious symbol I now wear? It's nothing more — or less — than the Declaration of Independence. Like I said, Washington might want to be watching out.
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at email@example.com.
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