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Kittredge: Acting On Beliefs


Unlike most people, I’ve always enjoyed my visits to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Without a doubt, these excursions are not likely to be swift; an hour is pretty standard, but they can take longer.

What I like about the DMV is that everyone is treated equally; there’s no favoritism, no class system at work. You take a number, take a seat and listen for the ping that announces the availability of an agent. And you stare at your number, say, D40 and the red D5 on the wall and know that you’re in for a wait. Just like everyone else. Maybe I’m a closet socialist at heart, but I love the level playing field. It’s a relief because there are no strings to be pulled, no fast track like the one some airlines offer, if you pay for roomier seat, you get to wiz through check-in and board the plane first. It’s a good metaphor for our society: those with the money win.
Then the other day I heard about a rally scheduled for tomorrow morning, that will take place simultaneously at Department of Motor Vehicles offices in two locations: South Burlington and Montpelier. In this “Together for Dignity” event, supporters of Migrant Justice here in Vermont like me are being asked to cut up our current driver’s license and get one of the new licenses now available to people who were previously undocumented. Once again the DMV will serve as a symbol of the level playing field. But this time I’m not being asked to sit patiently; I’m being asked to give something up, to surrender something that makes me feel legitimate – which makes me wonder if I will then feel illegitimate. The new licenses afford the holders all the same rights as the old ones, save for that of getting on an airplane.
Scenarios flash across my mind: getting stopped by the police and handing over this new license and blurting out that I really am a citizen - trying to regain some power or privilege. Or getting on an airplane with my passport as proof of my citizenship and finding out it’s expired or still in my desk. It’s hard standing up for what you believe in, being asked to sacrifice something for the greater good. We do so in small ways all the time: we recycle, we try to lower our carbon footprint, we give our time and resources to organizations we support, but somehow this feels different - because I’m afraid I might be viewed with suspicion by whatever authority I might encounter.

Then I realize that’s exactly how our farm worker neighbors feel; they live with the reality that they are indeed viewed as second-class citizens.

So I finally decide I will gladly cut up my license tomorrow. What seemed scary at first now seems an honor - and the best way I know to pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. and my neighbors.