Like 175,000 other people, I spent much of my Saturday in the middle of Boston, cheek to jowl with other people, wearing a pink hat and holding a sign.
It was an incredible experience for me. I’ve never marched in a protest before. I dislike crowds, and I don’t seek danger. I think that everyone who read through the advice before the march had to think seriously about whether this was safe. It was full of things like Don’t wear makeup, since it traps tear gas and Write your lawyer’s name on your arm in sharpie. I took the precaution of marching with a lawyer, and went anyway.
My first experience with marching included a lot of standing and not-quite-hearing what the speakers were saying. I guess that somehow they didn’t expect 175k people to turn out, and didn’t have the sound system extending that far. Fair enough. But it also included being surrounded by a panoply of different people. Latinxs, grandmas, veterans, construction workers, middle-aged mamas, kiddos, teen boys climbing trees. It seemed like every walk of life was there, every age, every color. And it seemed like all of them were cheerful, determined and patient. And wearing ridiculous pink hats. (Even the construction workers!) The unions were in force, as the volunteers who helped people figure out where to go and how to move. People moved slowly be necessity, and took in the signs, t-shirts, posters and aprons of their fellow-marchers.
As we walked (at a snail’s pace!) along the march route, the bystanders would often kick us off into a call. We’d walk in and out of the chant. One of the persistent ones was a call-and-response:
Call: Show me what democracy looks like!
Reponse: This is what democracy looks like.
It was an emotional and powerful affirmation to realize that yes. This is what a democracy looks like. I savored it. (And for the record, the Boston Police agree that it was an astonishingly peaceful event.
I ran into two folks I knew in the course of the march (which – I probably knew 80 people there in total, based on my friends checking in on Facebook!). Both of them were people I’d met in the church. One was Pastor Rob Mark from a fellow Presbyterian Church. Two were folks I’d gone to church with for years – whose daughter had been in my confirmation class. We caught up and chatted as we walked. My signs – my reason for marching – were very much rooted in my faith. One of the scriptures I find most meaningful is Matthew 25:31-46 – a quick summary of which is here:
Matthew 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I realized as I walked though that very few of the signs I saw had a scripture on them. The church on the corner played the great hymns of the civil rights movement (We Shall Overcome!). My friends showed their faith. But the word pussy outnumbered the word Jesus by many multiples. And that showed me where we’re falling down, friends. I don’t mind the pussy-posters at all. But I’m saddened that Christians were not very visible to point out that the call to help the poor and welcome immigrants comes at Jesus’ own command.
Teen Vogue, the new voice of responsible journalism in America (I’m not even kidding!), ran a thoughtful piece on how one of the civic changes we’ve experienced over the last generation is a decrease in participation in non-governmental democratic organizations. People aren’t practicing democracy on the small, local scale like they used to. They aren’t running for office in the Elk’s Club, taking leadership roles in the Masons or signing up with the Kiwanas on the same scale they did in prior generations. When’s the last time you voted on something – a real binding vote – that wasn’t governmental?
Well, the last time I did was today. It was the day of my Presbyterian Church’s annual meeting. We convened with Robert’s Rules of Order as our (generally) guiding principal. We made motions and didn’t argue about them until there was a second. We elected officials to represent not our own will, but the will of God as they see it. We read through our budget line by line, asked detailed questions, and got answers. We practiced our democratic skills.
It was a very democratic weekend, and an inspirational one. There is still so much to be done. There are people who have great fear right now: the dark skinned, the immigrant/stranger, the sick, those in prison, the hungry, the poor. But this Sunday I stand in hope that we will come together and protect and serve God through serving his needy people. So let’s turn the energy of this march into the deep-rooted and faithful work that needs to be done.