I have always drawn the line at public demonstrations. Writing letters to editors or legislators, signing petitions, calling representatives, even publishing blogs & the occasional tweet – those reasonable, genteel efforts in behalf of justice – have satisfied my self-righteousness self-image just fine. Marching, picketing, that sort of in-your-face activity I have happily left to other more courageous friends.
But now? Mass shootings, killings of seemingly innocent African Americans by police, sniper killings of police “in retaliation”? A dangerously polarized country facing a presidential choice between the two most unpopular candidates in history – one a widely mistrusted history-making woman and the other a scary narcissist egomaniac (IMHO)? No peace, little justice.
What can you do?
When a couple of guys who have become unlikely close friends decide to put together a rally on the steps of City Hall, you show up. One leads a mostly white, fairly traditional Presbyterian church in an upscale neighborhood, the other leads an African American Pentecostal congregation in a depressed area across town. Within a few days, at the end of a week that saw the shooting of an African American man in Minnesota and the killing of five policemen in Dallas, the two friends arranged an event to argue for sanity:
FAITH COMMUNITIES UNITED FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE. Nothing big, nothing political, nothing advertised as changing the world. A chance, though, for people from across the spectrums of race, politics and religion to show up and share their hope for a better world. For this writer, and strangers of assorted skin colors and garb (yarmulkes, hoodies, religious robes, flip flops) it was a chance to stand shoulder to shoulder, sign to sign, and catch one’s breath after recent weeks of tragedy and horror.
One of the ministers in attendance, who happens also to be a professionally trained singer, warmed up the crowd (which grew incrementally as the hour progressed) with a group sing-along to an old spiritual: I feel like going on. Though trials mount on every hand, I feel like going on.
An Asian American legislator told the crowd he had brought along his 4-month-old son. He and his wife have just bought a home in the depressed area. “so that my son can grow up,” he said, “with Black and Latino friends. I hope they will all be judged by their character.”
An interfaith leader quoted Martin Luther King, Jr’s phrase, “Returning violence for violence multiples violence.” He argued for turning this trend around – and drew applause when he said, “We need to support gun laws.”
A tall, young African American man holding an orange sign that read “LOVE & PEACE” spoke of his own father being shot by a policeman when the son was 16.
A public official told of an incident several days earlier in which an armed man had been talked down from a threatening situation, “and no one was injured or killed.”
A rabbi quoted a Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy, “Justice, justice shall you pursue . . .”
One of the leaders of a Muslim organization that promotes interfaith cooperation and understanding spoke of the message of peace which is central to Islam.
Signs were waved – they carried words and phrases like: Walk Humbly. All Lives Matter. Light Overcomes Darkness. – and – Imagine all the people living life in peace.
When the crowd disbursed, stepping out of the shadow of the City Hall steps and back into the summer sunshine, there was a demonstrable sense of light overcoming darkness. The word is that rallies and demonstrations for peace were taking place across the country on the same day. Out of them all, perhaps, will emerge a few seeds of justice and compassion to push back against the anger and hostility that has claimed every news cycle of recent months.
Because, as another widely quoted saying also heard from the rally lectern goes, You have to give them something to hope for.