Creative Disobedience

“I said my piece in a shaky voice,” Stephanie Wilkinson said about the night in June when she quietly turned away Sarah Huckabee Sanders from her restaurant.

Ms. Wilkinson is the co-founder and co-owner of The Red Hen, and she characterized her action as a “private act of conscience, not meant to be public.” The only reason her small action made it to the evening news and became a part of the national discourse was that a server posted the story on Facebook.

“This was about our own personal stand.” Since that quiet moment on the patio when she asked Ms. Sanders to leave, she’s received more than four thousand pieces of mail (including, literally, ‘pieces of shit.’)

From that small chat, a larger conversation emerged — when and with whom do our colleagues feel safe? Is this simply a sign of our polarized nation? Is a restaurant a public or private space; that is, is a restaurant more like a club than an open public park? It is, most assuredly, a business.

Ms. Wilkinson said, Yes, dining together — breaking bread — is personal, but it’s also political. As a restaurant that serves farm-to-table food, ‘We have to think about the immigrants who are picking our strawberries.’ Or the hands in the kitchen preparing our salad. Also, the context matters. How do you treat a person who fails to apologize for the lies of our executive in chief? How about someone who dismisses sexual abuse?

Is the person who explains policy about, basically, kidnapping children at our border welcome to dinner at your home?

“Would you serve Hitler? Would you serve Osama Bin Laden? Someone who kidnapped your child? ….Everybody has a line,” Wilkinson said. “What is the line you will not cross?” By asking Sanders to leave, Wilkinson and her staff addressed the inhumane and dangerous practices of the administration.

Not too be dramatic, Ms. Wilkinson said, but that was the context of the June evening when Ms. Sanders and her party quietly exited the restaurant.

While many people disagree with the choice the staff at the Red Hen that night, ‘business is up at the Red Hen. Business is up in the town.’ (Business is also good for Nike, led by Colin Kaepernick’s civil disobedience.)

Asked whether she would have taken the same action, had she known the outcome, Ms. Wilkinson replied, “I sleep very well at night. I have a staff who sleeps very well at night.”

While she does receive hate mail, she also receives gratitude mail. People have purchased gift cards from the restaurant. She has received meaningful letters, like the one that says, ‘I am an immigrant. What you did makes me feel there are people who stand with me.’

I am far left talking to Wilkinson beside me and two other mothers at the homecoming for the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington DC today.


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