Protests, Clogs & Sabotage

Unlike my students, Taylor and Alex, I was not in Washington on January 20, 2009. Instead Jason and I joined several friends from Actors’ Shakespeare Project at Upstairs on the Square to watch Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Who knew these shoes had such a political past?

Who knew these shoes had such a political past?

Listening to all the political commentary reminded me yet again that I should have selected a more rigorous US History class in high school. Singing all the hits from the musical, 1776, in History through Fiction somehow hasn’t paid off in the long run.

While surfing around for Presidential trivia later that evening, I stumbled upon several stories about an unorthodox bunch of protesters this week. Inspired by the rebellious Iraqi reporter who interrupted a recent press conference, this group hurled high heels, crocs, and a host of other shoes on the White House lawn and at an inflatable effigy of George W. Bush on Monday.

Although this is an unprecedented expression of outrage at a President, “shoeing” is not new. In fact, two girls at my suburban high school were often observed smacking each other in the head with clogs.

Speaking of which, the Walk This Way exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts explained that clogs, referred to as ‘sabots’ in French, inspired the word ‘sabotage.’ The Museum claimed that sabotage was derived from an event where Luddites had lobbed sabots into power looms. According to the story, the machines were decimating jobs for hand weavers and incensed workers flung their footwear in protest.

Other sources, though, claim that the word developed after angry peasants intentionally ruined aristocrats’ farmland with their clogs or when a railway workers’ strike broke the wooden shoes holding train tracks in place. Still other scholars contend that sabotage originally meant ‘to play an instrument badly’ and referred to the clomping noise produced by walking in these shoes.

No one seems to have enough evidence to support any of these specific etymological theories. It is clear, however, that clogs have been inciting crowds and stirring up controversy for centuries. Hmmm. I wonder how many pairs were wandering around Washington this week.


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