What Hamilton Taught Me about Protesting

My students are currently in the midst of writing their fancy papers in which they apply critical theories to their analysis of the Broadway musical, Hamilton. Since it is a fairly recent work, I have decided to write a few things up for them as potential outside sources that can aid in their thought process. There are myriad things that one can discuss about the eponymous orphan/bastard/soldier/statesman/founding father but for this entry I want to take a moment to think of Hamilton the negotiator and how short term and long term goals are fought for.

In “My Shot” we see how Alexander delineates his plan of action for education and how the financial situation of the nation needs to be addressed alongside the major revolution for freedom. Washington himself states in “Right Hand Man” the importance of logistics as he recruits our protagonist for his skills as a writer and thinker rather than his abilities as a soldier and chides him later on for being more predisposed to die in the battlefield than to survive. Here we see how Hamilton’s desire for glory beyond himself supersedes his own survival instincts during the war and will later cloud the decision making process of his political pursuits as well as his own family life.

This almost primal need to be remembered for great moments is echoed in other forms of media and storytelling to the point that small victories and minor strides of progress are so tiresome that they are almost not worth fighting for. I see this sentiment echoed once again in my current setting as the University of Puerto Rico system (as well as the rest of the education department) is once again on the chopping block in the name of financial austerity measures. Students, teachers, and many members of the community march and protest these decisions but those in charge continue with these unpopular decisions. Because these actions of resistance do not equate to reactions the battle and the ideological war seems like an all for naught situation for many activists. Because the big victories are the ones that have the most impact, many see these matches of will as sprints rather than as marathons and many do not come equipped with patience necessary for the long haul.

A quick glance at the timeline of history shows how even the most obvious of injustices took years to upend between the mobilization of people and the eventual changing of a particular law. Looking back to Hamilton, we remember not just how the war for independence of the USA took many years but that the drafting and ratification of the constitution itself took time as well. For Hamilton as Treasury Secretary we can see that his own fight to implement his financial system took some time as well. While we see that a few songs elapse between “Cabinet Battle #1” and “The Room where It Happens”, the audience interprets that the process took the length of the summer that Hamilton spent alone as his family went upstate on vacation. However, if we look at the years (1789 when Jefferson first arrives and 1791 when checks to James Reynolds were dated) it actually took at least more than a year for the great negotiation to have been completed. Hence, it takes a long time to set up the proverbial knockout punch.

One particular line that stands out in “The Room where It Happens” is when Hamilton chides Burr for not knowing how “to play the game” of politics. “If you’ve got skin in the game, you stay in the game / But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game” (3:43-3:48). The problem lies in that in order to “play in the game” one must accept the rules as given even if they are quite unfair. The rules of politics for example, greatly favor those that are already in power and hinder minority voices from being acknowledged, much less implementing change. We see how march after march takes place and yet the debates are tabled for later and progress becomes deterred once more. This is in large part because those in power stick to old school rules. They will ignore trending hashtags and other elements of social media due it not being how they played the game beforehand. Young people in particular are ignored because the worst they can do is vote for a fringe party candidate and that means that a vote that they weren’t going to get anyway doesn’t go to their main opponent; hence, no big deal.

With this in mind I propose a few ideas to make today’s protests have more effect. First off, you need to grow the movement beyond just yourselves. Politicians will look at rebels who need haircuts the same way almost anywhere. Even with a unified front, students are perceived as people who don’t live in the real world and teachers will complain regardless of the ruling party. In order to get those in power to react you need to go back towards what scares them most: actual families. You as a student need to get the support of your own families from your hometowns on your sides, thus spreading your level of influence. Second, people can ignore emails but phone calls and snail mail have a more lasting impact. Call and send letters where you clearly indicate your premise and how your family back home has your back. If your family is loyal to the party then threaten to cut them off from future campaign contributions or to jump ship altogether. Third, start small. La Junta won’t pick up your call but your local representative and mayor might. The mayors who have UPR campuses in their cities are strangely quiet even as they are aware that the financial loss of one will reverberate to the other. Have them take an official side and serve as an amplifier to your cause.

So identify your local representative, find their office numbers and address and take the time to make your voice heard. This was legit homework for my students last year during the huelga and I might just make it a tradition for all the future #ProfG pupils.

If you agree, disagree, or have more suggestions feel free to comment below.

G

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2 thoughts on “What Hamilton Taught Me about Protesting

  1. ANTONIO J HERNANDEZ-RODRIGUEZ says:

    i feel like my family isn’t the best place to start a revolution, prof g. They’re the ones who taught me that my voice doesn’t matter because we’re a colony. they taught me that my opinions won’t do anything to change the course of PR’s history. If we as a generation keep adopting the colonized mentality from our predecessors, PR’s history won’t change and my parents will have been right. I can’t allow that. in the name of teenage rebellion, i will not allow that!

    • I hear you but I was aiming more for bringing your family to be a part of the revolution as well. Teenage rebellion is often seen as a phase so if you and your generation are the ones on the streets then those emotions will be seen mostly as a passing thing and not “real”. By making your family woke as well, they bring further legitimacy to your cause. Sorry if that wasn’t clear in my original writing.

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