Monday, January 16, 2017

Let Us Remember--and Wake UP!

Today, this Dr. Martin Luther King Day, is a pivotal day in a volatile country. No matter how much I try to keep my cool, love my neighbor (and Zaga, I mean that in the figurative sense--not the literal), and be kind, I keep getting slapped in the face by people I like and respect who don't seem to be able to see anything negative happening on their side of the political spectrum. When I see posts and hear comments about the hate liberals are spewing, and read derogatory remarks about the hats some women are going to wear in the March on Washington (really? you're focusing on their hats and whether they resemble vaginas or cats?!?!), it makes my heart hurt.

Don't these women get it that things are not looking good in our country for ourselves, our sisters, our friends, and our daughters--may they be straight, gay, or transgender. Intolerance and short-sightedness (or outright blinders) are becoming the norm in this country. Wake up people! Yes, Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States, but that doesn't mean we have to shut up, sit back, and watch him strip us of our rights, our values, and our freedoms.

Yes, as with every public protest, there will be those who are righteous and angry, who rail and chant and burn articles of clothing. But that's not the core of the March or the idea behind it.

This is the Mission Statement for the March:

The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us - immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault - and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.
In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.
We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.

The entire mission and vision can be read here.

To put the upcoming March into historical context, a good friend's mother participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, and she wrote the following letter to her granddaughters about the experience. My friend posted it on Facebook a few years ago, and re-posted it today. I hope he doesn't mind me sharing it here.

"We had to catch the 3:00 am LIRR train from Lynbrook, especially put on to meet up with the Washington DC train from Penn Station to Union Station in DC to join whoever showed up for the March on Washington for Jobs. I had just finished my Junior year at Syracuse University and I knew when I first heard about it I would have to go. My then boyfriend XXXXXXX (later to be my husband) and my father, XXXXXXX joined me. We were told to dress well and to be orderly and polite to everyone. I wore a seersucker shirtwaist dress and loafers, my father wore a suit and tie and XXXXX wore a seersucker jacket, black slacks and a tie. This was the way the vast majority of the marchers dressed. The only exception was the enormous prevalence of beautiful Sunday hats worn by the majority of women. My Dad had printed up armbands that read, REMEMBER THE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE, BIRMINGHAM. We distributed them to anyone wanting them on the ride down on the train.

I will never forget arriving in DC and not sure if anyone else was really coming - we came out of Union Station by 9:00 am and were greeted by the street filled with people and more importantly there was an endless stream of the most dilapidated buses imaginable - their windows were open and we were shouting and greeting each other and they were dressed, as ready for Church. The buses would have signs taped on saying, i.e., The Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama or another church from Mississippi, etc., etc., etc. - they seemed as thrilled to see us as we were to see them and honestly most of us were crying with the joy of the moment. Their hands and heads and hearts were out of the windows.

This was probably the most peaceful assembly of people I had ever been with and that lasted for the entire day. The DC Police were wonderful and helpful and were pointing all of us in the correct direction. They wanted us all to go where the line was starting to form. We needed to be ready once the March would begin. Everyone obeyed, followed directions and everyone was so lovingly polite. We knew our every action would reflect on Dr. King and the Movement and we needed to show how important this was.

When we first arrived, the murmur was that 25,000 were coming and we were so happy - but they just kept coming and coming in these worn out and tired buses across America to DC. We were shocked at the endless numbers of buses and people arriving. We would be marching with the giants... Dr. King, A. Philip Randolph, Mrs. Medgar Evers, John Lewis, James Farmer, Whitney Young, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Bayard Rustin (who along with Dr. King actually started this whole ball rolling for a March)... and so many more. I remember the priests, so many priests and so many nuns, marching in their heavy habits. And we were marching with all these incredible people who rode forever on these buses - how did they ever make it? What made them think these buses would make it? The whole thing started to feel surreal - some force was allowing this to happen. To happen so peacefully, so beautifully. They never stopped coming. Everyone shared any snacks, but we ate almost nothing - I do not remember having water.

Shortly before we got to the Lincoln Memorial, something exciting was rippling through the crowd and it finally got to us - President Kennedy had invited the leaders of the March to the White House for a meeting on what the marchers were demanding. This was so much more than we ever thought would happen that day. We knew we had already made a difference.

We were early and lucky to be nearer the front, which meant as we approached the Lincoln Memorial, we actually got to be under the first tree on the right, looking at the Memorial. It was the first shade of the day. We could see the podium and the speakers - far away, but there.

I can really only remember one other speech from that day, besides THE SPEECH. That was John Lewis' speech. Dr. King's speech started out slowly and he seemed to be moving slowly and then he found it. Then it happened and we all started to look at each other because we knew these words, the words he was now saying would be remembered forever."

Dr. King's speech was both strong and fiery, and peaceful and resolute:

"In the process of gaining our rightful place
we must not he guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not
seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from
the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane
of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative
protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again
and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting
physical force with soul force."

Tomorrow the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood's removal from eligible Medicaid service centers.

1 comment:

Bill said...

I'm shocked to realize that there are a huge number of people in our country who want us to return to the 1950s. Astonishing.