Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An "Us" Day

What I wanted to do yesterday was take a "me" day. I'd been traveling and felt like I needed time to goof off. In fact, when I left the apartment, the plan was just to soak up a little of our rare mid-winter sunshine and maybe sit down to a nice brunch before heading home for an afternoon of puttering. The first part happened, but the second part did not. Instead, I found myself on the bus on the way to Garfield High School where my fellow citizens were gathering to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a morning of education followed by a march to downtown and a rally at Westlake Center.

I was six-years-old when MLK was assassinated. I remember learning about it from the news. If the adults in my life talked about it -- parents, teachers, neighbors -- it wasn't in my presence. It wasn't until a few years later, after my family moved from our all-white suburb of Columbia, South Carolina to Athens, Greece, that I began to learn about the man and his legacy of fighting the intertwined problems of racism, poverty, and war, what MLK called the "triple evils." Too often we think of MLK's legacy merely in terms of race, but I was happy to see that my fellow citizens have not forgotten his broader legacy of anti-capitalism, pro-labor, and peace.

As my fellow citizens gathered, we sang, chanted, and chatted. We carried our signs into the street where we were escorted by a legion of bicycle and motorcycle cops. Just last week I was showing the children at school pictures of police brutalizing and arresting similar protestors, but this gathering was one of peaceful celebration, even as we discussed horrible things. There must have been ten thousand of us out there yesterday. I ran into many people I know, including several of my school families.

At an intersection near Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill, we took a knee, then proceeded downtown to Westlake Center where we held our rally.

In 1970, the courts ordered public schools in Columbia, SC to be desegregated, a direct result of the Civil Rights movement that MLK helped to lead. Sadly, today our schools are re-segregated in much of the country and the same inequalities that provoked the movement in the first place are still with us. Indeed, all of MLK's intertwined triple evils continue to afflict us and in many ways are even worse than they were 50 years ago. We call it a "celebration," but it's appropriate it takes the form of a protest. It would be easy to fall into despair, but for my fellow citizens who have come together in hope, but for the smiles and laughter of the children, but for us all coming together like this to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity.

It was a long, exhausting, and emotional day. I traded my "me" day for an "us" day and was reminded that every day that is not an "us" day is one on which the triple evils win.

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