Trying Out: Protesting Downtown (Week Thirty-Four)
Many things I have heard about protests made it seem a bit much for my tastes. In college, what was going to be a showing of disapproval turned into the WTO Riots. My friend, who was doing some reporting on the World Trade Organization at the time, received an eye-opening (or rather, -closing) dose of tear gas. Windows were broken; the whole thing went a little too far.
Since then I have heard of the antis fighting with the pros. People from neighboring states come around to spread anarchy. All this, added to the fact that I do not enjoy large crowds. Whenever I can, I rush off to places that are low on people and rich in nature.
Spending my free time standing to shoulder to shoulder with others, if not thousands of others, simply does not sound refreshing.
However, a group of ladies from church wanted to attend a pro-peace rally. They wanted to hear religious leaders, among others, speak up for peace and love. They wanted folks to know that we Quakers are not all oatmeal. We actually do work for a better world outside of church. At least, we try to.
So I shirked my normal sabbath. I hopped on a bus without a bus pass. (I carry no funds with me on Sundays. I promise, I double-tapped later in the week to make up for it. All debts were paid.) I went to the wacky world of downtown. And I stood around holding a sign.
I wanted to support my sisters in church and hear what people had to say. The large crowd that I expected was not really there. A hundred individuals, perhaps more, gathered in a large courtyard. (When I hear “crowds” and “protest”, I think of the Women’s March.)
After ten or so minutes of technical difficulties, the speakers began to pour their hearts out. Jews, Christians, Muslims, candidates for public office; they all had their say.
It was hard to focus on what was being said. One person was keen to take our photo. A passerby walked up, criticized us for being there, and waved us off. And then there was the person that was a little too taken away by what was being said.
I would judge that the person’s sensibilities were altered. He seemed overly taken with every single sentence. He spoke in spurts and shoved his hands in the air. Several times he tried to climb, rather clumsily, up on stage. Without knowing him, I would guess that his capacities were hindered.
However, the response to this man was what impressed me the most. The police were standing reasonably close, keeping an eye on things, but the organizers never called on them. One person shook his hand, urged him to be cool, and let him be. Another person tried to slowly guide him away. The speaker; who almost had a co-presenter with him, responded politely as well. He reached out his hand out to the man and asked if he wanted a hug.
Instead of treating the man as a troublesome individual, they treated him with respect and kindness. That display of humanity impressed me.
The peaceful proceedings seemed to be calm, as I hoped they would be, but without any conflict. They were preaching to the choir. If they were trying to shore up their resources and come together as a community, then they succeeded. If they were trying to change peoples’ minds or prove they were right to anyone, then I do not think that they “won”.
I do not believe in white-washing the past. Let us not pretend that we have it all figured out now since we never had it all figured it before. If we gloss over the mistakes we made once, we are just going to suffer through it again. I do not think any more confederate flags should be made, but I think we should acknowledge that they existed. If we want to do better, we have to remember what we did not do well the first time.
The man who made comments and gestures appeared to have that view, if not a little stronger. You cannot undo what has been done before. So keep a history book or two on the shelf while you write the future.
At the same time, I think everybody has a right to free speech. Even those I disagree with.
As I stood there, I heard numerous people calling out neo-Nazis, venting against fascists, and demanding that people that thought like that had no place in this world. That they were evil. They had gone through a tough week, so I listened to their grievances.
I have no great calling for rallies. I am all for supporting those that feel led to do that. Nothing was wondrously solved that day. Then again, no one said it had to be. Perhaps it was meant as a show of love, and nothing else.