Unlike many of my peers who regularly attend political protests, I’m uncomfortable holding signs. As an introvert who fears the crush of crowds, I prefer subtle rebellions — the kind I experience in a museum.
I admire my friends’ stamina in this era of disenchantment, but rallies aren’t the only way to resist. Activism takes many forms: writing blogs, boycotting brands or allowing internal shifts inspired by the arts and culture. By visiting controversial relics in NYC’s public places, I’m practicing freedom of speech just as much as pals with their fists in the air. Meanwhile, my eyes are open to points of view in an atmosphere that allows me space to reflect.
Recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I wandered through the exhibit “Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings” and noticed a patron shouting at a 19th century landscape. On closer inspection, the well-dressed gentleman was yelling at “The Savage State,” one of five paintings in Cole’s “The Course of Empire.” As a statement against President Andrew Jackson and the destruction of the American frontier, the series portrays an idyllic valley polluted by human greed.
"This is history repeating itself!” he exclaimed to the canvas, clearly finding parallels between environmental concerns of the 1830s and 2018. As I strolled through the section, I felt his grief.
At the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the ground-floor exhibition space explodes with “You Say You Want a Revolution: Remembering the 60s.” Preserved under glass, Gloria Steinem’s letter to Abe Rosenthal of The New York Times politely chastises the publication for its coverage of the Equal Rights Amendment, to this day a proposed amendment that never passed. I wanted to kiss her typewritten words.
A docent showed me other points of interest, including a section about the Stonewall riots between the LGBTQ community and law enforcement. Not long ago, gay people couldn’t congregate in bars because of an interpretation of decency laws at the time.
As I left the exhibit, I mentally thanked activists whose boots-on-the-ground approach led to societal transformation. For a history nerd like me, revolt begins in the quiet places of my mind. But my feet are getting restless.