TL;DR: I broke up a fight at Chattajack and I can't stop thinking about it.
When I wrote my Chattajack 2019 recap, I left out the drama of the day.
As I've read more about activism and social justice, I've become more willing to speak my mind. I'm less apologetic and more forceful. Basically, I've internalized a lot of the empowerment/confidence messaging of 4th wave feminism, but I often wonder how I'd act in public if faced with a situation where this kind of strength is really needed. Where confrontation comes to a head.
I got to see it in action last Saturday.
At the start of any paddle race, there are collisions. It's the nature of the start line; with so many crafts at so many different speeds, people just get run into sometimes. At Chattajack, there were a handful, which were mostly taken lightly and as par for the course.
One collision involved Matt's team (K2N) and an OC2.
An OC6 is faster than an OC2, just based on manpower. It's also a much larger boat. K2N found themselves between a bridge piling and an OC2 at the start line, and rather than yield, the OC2 got in their way. The OC6's ama went over the OC2's tail and got stuck for about 10 seconds. The equivalent (for the OC2) would be getting jostled and stuck behind a group of people at the start of a marathon.
(We've since seen video and know that rather than paddle out of the situation, the OC2 steersman tried to lift the ama and deliberately tip K2N's boat, which could have resulted in a broken boat, major injury if someone got trapped between the boat and bridge, or even a drowning. The only reason they didn't succeed is that two K2N rowers realized what was happening and leaned the opposite direction to counter the lift. The gravity of the situation can't be understated. Basically, this was a much bigger deal than we originally thought for K2N.)
There was a lot of swearing and personal attacks hurled between boats before the OC6 peeled off and got on its way.
Matt's team finished in just over 4 hours but we hung around the marina for a long time trying to get things situated. About 5 hours after the start, the enraged OC2's second paddler found us at the marina. He came stomping up to Robert, K2N's steersman, and got in his face. This guy was lanky and tall, taller than Robert and much taller than me. At first, we spectators thought he was joking. It was just so ludicrous to see a 60-something guy trying to fight a friend of ours.
He screamed about how Robert was in the wrong for steering into their boat, literally asking, "Do you think you were right and I was wrong?!" to which Robert replied, "What do you think happened?" (I later learned this all came down to ego more than anything else, because this guy apparently travels to paddle races all the time and works for the Pentagon. He clearly didn't like that Robert stood his ground.)
Robert refused to apologize because he wasn't in the wrong.
The guy threatened to report the team to the race director, a threat at which we all rolled our eyes. Collisions happen. No boats were damaged. What's the fuss?
I told him I had photo evidence of the incident and he laughed in my face before stalking off, perhaps to attempt to find the race director.
Remember that marathon analogy? If you finished the race and then immediately went searching for the group of people who had jostled/blocked you briefly at the start line, that's basically what this guy did. He didn't take the time to celebrate or take pride in his own race; he was single-mindedly searching for the team who got in his way five hours earlier.
Anyway, I thought that it over, but this guy approached us AGAIN twenty minutes or more later, as we stood at my car. He was still yelling and circling Robert like he wanted to get physical.
Matt and I both tried to defuse the situation. I said, "Emotions are running high, but nothing was damaged, it's in the past." Matt said, "Everyone is here to have a good time. It was 10 seconds 31 miles ago."
The guy wouldn't let up. He and Robert were facing off. Suddenly, he made a move like he was going to shove Robert.
Without thinking, I jumped in between them and got in the guy's face. I was so close I had to tilt my head up to look him in the eye, and I felt my body brush his before he moved back. His expression shifted, surprise replacing some of the pugnacious rage. In my best Teacher Voice, commanding and loud but not quite yelling, I said, "STOP IT. YOU ARE A GROWN MAN. WALK AWAY."
I think I may have even wagged a finger in his face.
My entire body was pulsing with adrenaline. I was shaking. The guy finally backed off, shouting, "So is he!" and walked away. I followed him a few steps to make sure he really left.
Afterward, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I had taken a risk, assuming he wouldn't push or hit me because I'm a woman. But I also hadn't actually made a conscious decision to make a move between them. That leap into the middle of the argument happened on instinct.
Now I know that I actually have internalized the messaging that we shouldn't let entitled jerks walk all over us and heap abuse on us. I, of course, thought of a million other things I wanted to yell at him after the fact. But that's not the point. That wasn't a learning moment for that guy; no one is open to hearing about how they'd benefit from therapy and anger management in the midst of an apoplectic tantrum.
But I have thought a lot about the fact that he apparently works at the Pentagon. I have a lot of disdain for men who treat people with such disrespect and cruelty, and I don't think men like that should be representing our country in the military. Obviously, I'm not naive; there's a reason men like him get into those positions of power. But I do wonder what his superiors would say to him almost getting into a physical altercation with a civilian at a recreational sporting event.
I hope when he looks back at his race weekend, he remembers the short little woman who got in his face and shamed him for acting like an immature bully.
I hope, given time, he realizes just what it says about him that I had to do just that.
Maybe someday he'll learn from that. Maybe not. But I learned something about myself, and I'm proud.