Peacemaking in D.C.

It’s been a few days since I got back from Washington D.C. but this is the first chance I’ve had to write an update.

The road trip started on Thursday as we headed to my cousin’s house in Virginia. She graciously agreed to allow her crazy relatives to spend a couple of nights with her (thanks, Melanie!) and even joined us for the march! It was a long day on the road with the biggest surprise being the forty dollars in tolls to take the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes. Apparently it’s been awhile since I’ve been on them because that was certainly not in my budget! What am I saying? The trip was completely unplanned so none of it was in my budget! 

After a leisurely breakfast on Friday, we drove to the Wiehle-Reston East Station to hop on the Metrorail and take the silver line into D.C. This wasn’t our first time on the train (the last time we each had a toddler and were pregnant, but that’s another story), but things have changed a bit since the mid nineteen-eighties. In other words, we had no idea what we were doing and had to get some human assistance.

Armed with a map and instructions from the self appointed greeters who met us at the Smithsonian rail stop, we headed to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial so we’d know what to do the next day when it was time for the march. It was quite an experience – not sure I can really put it all in words.

After that, we headed to the American History Museum. The highlight for me was seeing the African American History and Culture Gallery where there was a display about the Poor People’s Campaign that took place in 1968. Fifty years ago, an estimated thirty-five million people in the United States lived in poverty. This year the estimate is forty-three million. Hmm, seems like we’re not making much progress . . .

Later in the day, specifically after rush hour started, we hopped aboard the Metrorail’s green line to head to the Festival Center for the evening’s presentation. We spent some leisurely time browsing the books and having a bite to eat at the Potter’s House.

The speakers at the event were Dr. Kit Evans-Ford, John Dear, Ken Butigan, George Paz Martin, and Veronica Pelicaric. While they were all inspirational, I was moved the most by the people who shared their stories of the actions and projects they’d done in their cities over the past few months before coming to Washington D.C. They came from all over the country, one guy even came from Hawaii! It gave me hope that so many people are doing things, though it was a little embarrassing that the contingent of two from Michigan had done pretty much nothing. So far. But we are about to.

It was really late when we got back and it was hard to fall asleep anticipating the march the next day. At barely after six am we were back on the road heading for the train station. This time we rocked it like veterans and got to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in record time. As we gathered, a huge helicopter kept buzzing by our location, no doubt keeping an eye on us protesters. Though we were warned that we could be asked to leave by the park rangers, nothing happened and the rally continued without any issues.

Though I was doing my best to be professional, I did have a fan girl moment when Shane Claiborne arrived. Shane is the author of several life ruining books like Jesus For President, The Irresistible Revolution, Red Letter Revolution and Executing Grace. He’s partly responsible for this current journey I’m on and I just had to introduce myself and shake his hand. Because it would be wrong to kick him when I’m trying to be a peacemaker.

Speakers at the rally were John Dear, Lisa Sharon Harper, George Martin, Shane Claiborne, Ken Butigan, and Reverend Lennox Yearwood. As I listened, I looked up at the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. and it looked like tears were streaming down his cheeks.  Were they tears of sadness that in fifty years we’d made so little progress or were they tears of joy that there were still people – however few – peacefully marching for injustice?

We paired up and silently started marching toward the White House. We passed the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. As we passed fellow Americans and visitors from other countries, I wondered what they thought of our peaceful demonstration. 

We arrived at the White House and a group of people stepped up to the barricade. We stood directly across from them and it wasn’t long before the police arrived and asked them to leave. They stood their ground and the police called in a van and additional officers. After an hour we were all getting tired, hungry, thirsty (and it had been a really long time since any of us used the bathroom) so we gathered in a circle and each shared one word that was on our lips as we reflected on what we’d experienced so far.

You can see someone standing on top of the White House – not sure if it’s a telescope or a gun that’s pointed at us.

Ironic that an officer with an assault rifle is standing behind our peacemakers

The police explaining that not moving will result in an arrest

Though we would have liked to stay and see things through to the end, we had a long drive ahead of us so we left after the circle. The group ultimately waited about two hours but no arrests happened. What I’d like to believe is that the police continued to wait instead of arresting people so they wouldn’t have to arrest peaceful, respectful citizens who are trying to make a difference.

It will take some time to process everything I experienced, but I wonder – what would have happened if more people stood with us? What if we had two thousand people instead of a couple hundred? What if there were twenty-thousand people? Two-hundred thousand? Would it make a difference? Would the issues of war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction be addressed if more people stood up and said things are not okay? It’s frustrating that most people seem oblivious to the pressing issues of the day, but then until a couple of years ago, I wasn’t doing anything about these issues either. So here’s my plea to everyone that’s reading this post. Do something. You don’t have to march in protests (but you might want to!). Do some research, call or email the people in our legislature, recycle, be a responsible consumer, partner with organizations who stand against injustice, and exercise your right to vote after you’ve thoroughly vetted the candidates. Don’t wait – everyone can do something now.

My favorite shirt at the march

An Activist?

Becoming an activist was never part of my retirement plan. As I’ve mentioned before, however, most of my retirement hasn’t gone exactly as expected.  Even so, as a rule follower and sometimes goody two-shoes, this activism thing is definitely outside of my comfort zone.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but most of my adult life I’ve avoided the news and lived sheltered from most of the bad things that happen in the world. Sure, I was moved by disasters and prayed for the victims, maybe even sent a small donation. Of course I volunteered to walk or donate to causes that I cared about. There were a couple of times when I even wrote to my senators or representatives in congress and of course I voted so I haven’t been a total slacker. Do you like how I’ve justified my apathy and total lack of action here?

Now that I have more time on my hands and am following various people and organizations on social media and blogs, I’m learning a lot about what’s going on locally and globally and much of it isn’t good.  There are people suffering from hunger, abuse, racism, and sexism. As a nation we spend more money on our military than any other category. The damage we have done to the planet is getting to the point where it may not be reversible. Things that once hovered on the periphery of my life are now taking center stage and I’m feeling compelled to do much more than just feel bad about it, send a donation, or lament to friends and family.

The first protest I attended was in Lansing, Michigan. It was a part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The purpose was to unite people across the United States to take on issues like systematic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and our nation’s current morality. It was quite an eye opening experience to hear what people and the earth are experiencing and how little is being done about it. As a rookie, I had to borrow a sign from someone (who knew you had to bring one?) and also volunteered to carry a cross to plant in the lawn of the state capitol.

Thankfully other people brought signs for newbie activists like me

My fellow activist

The Capitol, Lansing, MI

Crosses to signify all the people who have died from gun violence

A couple of weeks ago I attended was an action by the Michigan Climate Action Network called Climate and the Commons. For two hours people stood outside the Ann Arbor Main Library telling their person experience about what changes they are seeing in the environment. Again, I was ill prepared and without a sign – I clearly have a lot of work to do to become a better activist.

Love this sign!  Ann Arbor, MI

Now it’s the eve of the next event – the Campaign Nonviolence National Convergence in Washington, DC. As stated on their website, here’s the plan, ”Together, our collective actions and voices are calling for an end to the culture of racism, poverty, war, and environmental destruction, and making the choice for nonviolence, peace and truth.”

Even though I lived near DC for quite a few years, that was a really long time ago and it’s kind of scary to hit the road, hop on the metro rail, and find my way around to the rally and march. Thankfully my usual partner in crime, Linda, is coming with me so if nothing else it will be an adventure.

The purpose of this post is not to shine the light on me and make it seem like I’m some kind of awesome person who’s out there doing stuff.  It’s more about another Naked On The Tundra moment when I’m pretty scared about it but am doing it anyway. At least this time I have a sign all made up! With any luck I will be able to tell all about it in a few days. If you watch the event on YouTube on September 22 at 9:00 am Eastern, you might catch a glimpse of me!

Hey, I’m an activist, not an artist.