ROUNDTABLE: Finding your voice
Daniel Watkins, a UF grad student in the history department and dedicated volunteer at the GCW, started off this week’s Roundtable by reading us the passage in scripture about the persistent widow and the judge. For those who don’t remember, the story goes like this: There is a widow who must continually harrass the local judge to give her justice. The judge finally relents, not because he finds her case compelling or because justice demands it, but so the widow will stop harrassing him. Daniel stated that from the judge’s perspective, the story might better be called the parable of the annoying widow.
Daniel went on to remind us that a widow, at that time in history and in that area of the world, would have been considered to be among the lowest of the low in terms of security, status, power, etc. To be a widow meant to be completely vulnerable, without value, without the protection of a husband and exposed to the injustice and disregard of others. The judge in the parable had no reason to do anything on behalf of the widow; ignoring her was without consequence for a man of his standing. But the woman uses the only thing left to here: she finds her voice and she uses it — over and over and over again — to push the judge into recognizing her rights and granting what she asks for, which we should emphasize, is justice. She finds her voice and is eventually granted justice.
Daniel’s area of study is French history, and he shared with us how what typically passes for history is actually “royal history,” i.e. history related to the kings and queens and elites of society. What historians typically are interested in and what they end up writing about is the great powers and personalities of their age, giving little to no notice of the contributions of the common people, and even less history remembers the voice of the impoverished and oppressed. This “royal history” typically ends up also being what we come to know as “official history.”
In Daniel’s own studies though, he did find one example in French history of a historian who believed that the voices of the impoverished and oppressed should also be heard, not thru the interpretations of historians and the royal subjects they typically focused on, but rather in their own words. He shared with us how this historian (whose name now escapes me, Le Tois maybe?) appended to his writings pamphlets and cartoons that were the popular literature of the time, depicting the attitudes and the opinions of common people, of peasants and workers. Examples he shared included a dialogue which satirized the king, who, in a conversation with a peasant, inquires why his people are not more supportive and adoring of him. The dialogue is witty and cutting, portraying the social chasm that exists between king and commoner and how the common people understood that their hardships were due in large part to the corruption and extravagance of the king and his minions.
One point Daniel seemed to want to share with us is the importance, especially for those who have been oppressed and neglected, of finding our voice, using that voice and becoming agents of change ourselves. Although the powers-that-be might lead us to believe that we have no voice nor place in “official history,” the truth is that there have always been those who are outside of power who have found their voices and shaped the societies and communities of which they are a part for the better. Like that widow in the biblical story, even when we are told we are powerless and unimportant, we still have our voice. And with that voice, we can be heard, change can happen, and justice accomplished.
PERSONAL NOTE: We are incredibly thankful for all that Daniel has shared with our community during his time at UF. Daniel has been a regular part of the Tuesday Breakfast Brigade crew, brought the youth group from his church to help out at Dorothy’s Cafe on a number of occasions, and now holds the record for most appearances facilitating the Roundtable (3). His love for his work, his belief in trying to make the world a better, more just place, and his gift for storytelling and conversation have enriched our community and blessed all of us. Thanks Daniel for your witness and commitment and good luck with your future studies at Ohio State next fall.
Posted on 04/19/2008, in ROUNDTABLE and tagged Daniel Watkins, finding your voice, history from below, people's history, persistent widow, ROUNDTABLE, Voice for the voiceless, voice of the poor. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.