One Dress Protest -- "Charging Our Windmills: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day"

It's hard waking up to bad news. Many of us are feeling discouraged about the current state of American politics, but we must have courage to arise in the morning with optimism and know that, in the end, the good will have the last word. 

In light of this, I thought a blog post from the past conveyed my hopefulness. What follows was originally published on January 17, 2011 on my One Dress Protest blog, where I chronicled a year of my life wearing a single dress to explore radical minimalism and intentionality. I'll be republishing some of my ODP blogs here at On Being Mom from time to time. 

One Dress Protest

fasting from fashion


Today… I’m thinking about windmills.

Why, you ask? Have you ever read in Miguel de Certantes’ Don Quixote how Don Quixote, the eccentric adventurer, charges the windmills? He sees them from a distance, but in his off-center and impassioned imagination, he doesn’t just see windmills—he sees monsters. Hulking monsters with wide, swinging arms that dot the otherwise peaceful Spanish landscape.

So why am I thinking about windmills today… of all days? Today, the day set aside in America to commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader and non-violent peace activist, is perhaps the best day on which to do so!

As Don Quixote readied his armor and prepared to charge, Sancho Panza, his halfwit sidekick, stood in disbelief. “Take care, sir,” he cried. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”

In other words, those windmills are not worth charging. For not only are they not monsters, but they are utterly harmless, mere objects of the normal, mundane rural countryside. Yet not only did Quixote press on, he charged with fervor, absolutely resolved in their wretchedness, convinced that their elimination would bring peace to the land.

Windmills and Martin Luther King’s birthday might seem far cries from comparability until we take a moment to ponder the windmills that King himself charged throughout his life. That is, the vicious tides of racism, the inhuman offenses of discrimination, the baseless nature of hate.

King, a non-violent protestor and prophet of love, was continually told that such social evils were merely windmills—ordinary realities of modern American culture. And while they might change in the future, it was best to let society slowly warm to the idea of equality, or to finally make good on its promises to grant civil rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens.

Yet like Quixote taking aim at the mammoth windmills anchored in the hills, King charged, and he charged ardently. In doing so, he not only took aim at the mundane racism, intolerance, and hate of his day, but also the other factors that inhibited people from attaining true change in their hearts and lives. According to King, we live in an age of “jumboism,” where society leads us to believe that “happiness consists in the size of our automobiles, the impressiveness of our houses, and the expensiveness of our clothes.”

Today, as I ponder King’s message, I want to add my small voice to the wider attempt to charge the windmills of our own day. Specifically, my protest seeks to charge the windmills of fashion and clothing consumption, which themselves seem normal in the context of our everyday lives. Those windmills secure the ordinary messages that we will be happier if we buy more clothes, that we will somehow become the better “me” by consuming the latest styles or newest trends (whatever styles those may be), that we need more or different clothes (be they expensive, free, couture, name-brand, or vintage) to be contented in this restless world.

Yet like Sancho, we, too, are apt to convince ourselves of the innocuous ordinariness of our windmills. “Those over there are not giants but windmills,” we reassure ourselves. “They are common, simple facts of life that I simply need to learn to live with.” But today—especially today!—we can channel King and not only begin to stand up to our windmills, but we can also charge them to wage the fight for our souls.

In this way, King realized just how much was on the line when we decide to take a stand, go against the grain, and charge on. So should we.

I must say that I do not mean to imply that the windmills I seek to charge this year are somehow on a level of wretchedness as those that King and the Civil Rights leaders faced down in their own day. But mine are windmills nonetheless. And today, when we are given reason to pause and contemplate the meaning and significance of King’s message of hope and love, we might also stop and think of the windmills that continually fade into normalcy in our world, prolonging his hope and love to take full effect in all of our lives.

So today, beyond merely commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr., join me in participating in his radical protest of the windmills that subdue our lives and hearts.

What do these windmills mean to you? Do you have other windmills you are setting your sights on? And perhaps most importantly, are you willing to seem ludicrous, as Don Quixote surely did, in order to charge whatever they may be?