The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



What does it really mean to be a firebrand? A thought experiment

| Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

I like disagreement. Opposition, argumentation, division – these are pillars of who I am.

No, don’t laugh at me. People point at me and laugh, but this is only because they are too scared to admit that I am giving a name to the hatred they feel as they lie in bed every night. I am apolitical because that means taking sides, and I hate everyone. I hear the laughs of people on the “outside,” but I’m on the “inside” so I don’t really care. I am an American national, I am Notre Dame and I decide what that means. Don’t dismiss me as Marxist and claim that I am rallying warriors on the front lines. I’m lying. Get up bright and early for class tomorrow and get ready for opposition. There’s nothing to lose but our chains.

I am an auditorium of exactly one person, and I love the sound of my own voice reverberating off these lonely walls. There is dust gathering on rows of plastic chairs, but in waking up the echoes, I can hear the rally cries of thousands of people cheering my name. I will never leave this hollow place because I can’t. Outside of these walls there is a world and empty seats to a sold-out show of one person. I’ll keep screaming at my screen, and you’ll never feel the loneliness of 280-character firebrands. I will be incendiary because it feels so good to burn.

To be a firebrand is to wear so many masks that my identity is like the smattering of colors upon a Jackson Pollack painting. I agree with you about what is the best dining hall on Monday, and I enjoy myself at the other one on Tuesday. I am the person in class who talks over you because I am silver-tongued, and my voice is honey. I am a purveyor of chaos, and I live in the shadows of the opinions of others because nothing I have to say aligns with the options given. I am ill-informed but aggressively opinionated. I am Wikipedia; I am Twitter. Listen to your lies, and I’ll believe my truth.

I am outcast, I am king of a world where truth is my truth and to be a firebrand is to be the maker of rules. Light your torch and follow me and disagree.

I like disagreement. I seek opposition, argumentation and division, because these are pillars for growth. I’ll disagree with you because I like a challenge, but I do not do so because of a love for chaos. I am apolitical because that means taking sides and subscribing to labels and placing myself into empty statistics. I say I am a liberal, but economically conservative, and this is a clever way of saying that nobody really has the answers. Platforms are limited because people are multidimensional and subscribing to one side means signing on to a list of fine print and ideology in the margins.

I say challenging things in class because I am challenging. Democracies have tendencies to exclude minority perspectives, and I am the wake-up call to exclusion. I am neither conservative nor liberal, but “constructively argumentative,” and I strive to push others to confront their own dogma.

It sometimes seems as if Notre Dame is afraid to accept that it is incendiary. In the carefully constructed words of du Lac, there are guidelines for demonstration: They must be peaceful and orderly and never impede the freedom of the University community. There have been warnings against protest, specifically those concerning issues from the housing policy to the murals in Main Building. And yet, Notre Dame should be proud that she has constructed a culture where students are comfortable being firebrands. When the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in South Bend in 1924, it was Notre Dame students who put together a counter-protest. Former University President Fr. Theodore Hesburgh would be the first to tell you that violence is never an answer to disagreement, but Notre Dame has a storied history of being incendiary.

I accept this identity, and I am a Jackson Pollack painting where every color and every stroke is a shade of my personality. I am Picasso because I like to turn the world upside down and reconstruct it. I am Martin Luther, nailing my theses on the doors of dogma. I am Fr. Hesburgh, challenging the status quo and protesting with Martin Luther King Jr. I am sit-ins, I am picketing. But I am also conversations at Starbucks with professors who hold differing opinions. I am the person in class who asks hard questions because I want to know. I want to know what makes you tick and makes you think, what keeps you up at night and the dreams you want to pursue.

I am incendiary because I want to be a source of light in a world where “outside” and “inside” are used to draw the battle lines between us. And sometimes, to be a firebrand is the only way to break these chains.


Gabriel Niforatos is a junior majoring in political science with a minor in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Tags: , ,

About Gabriel Niforatos

Contact Gabriel