Grace Ross: Listening To The March On Washington
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
When I mentioned my dad’s birth date to my long time friend Jim, he waxed on about how he was aware in comparison with his children, how many changes had happened in just our regular everyday lives. What we take for granted versus what they take for granted and how it changes our perspective on things.
I could not help mentioning in an amused way that my mother had found it annoying that we were not as interested in her bedtime stories as our father’s. That was until she realized that my dad told stories of his childhood about them heating up the huge copper cauldrons over fires for baths because pretty much no one had hot running water then. And they did not have electricity. I find I often struggle trying to remember life before cell phones but for young adults that is all they know!
This weekend was the 50th Anniversary March for Freedom and Jobs. Most people know the first such march as the Washington protest where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the famous I Have a Dream speech.
Many will assume this weekend’s activities were a mere commemoration, a nostalgic hearkening back to a time of critically important protest and profound change for our nation. But the calls we for the need for more action in the service of our dreams.
A number of the speakers brought home the reality of the differences between then and now. As Rev. Lowry said, “Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.”
Some spoke of those who had come 50 years ago on buses that were not allowed to stop for people to use public bathrooms or those who had to sleep on buses because there were only public accommodations for ‘whites only’. Compare this to the profoundly different trip that all of us had this weekend. No matter where we came from, no matter what our skin color, we all had the same access to basic services. These are the seemingly simple but profound changes wrought by joint action that legally now public facilities, public schools, hospitals and fire departments serve all of the residents of the United States.
That profound moment-to-moment life experience – either learned in your childhood or handed down from your parents – of course impacts how we see the world, experience what happens, and our sense of empowerment or righteous indignation when we are treated badly by others. The African American majority at this march share that history; it’s a little hard for us white folks to conceive – when neither our parents nor we in our own childhood experienced the minute-to-minute reminder of being seen as outsiders, as second class citizens in the United States. (To the extent to which we experienced that on a basis besides skin color, we may be more able to step inside that experience if we let ourselves.)
It was a systemic experience shared by a huge swath of our nation. It informs both the joy at having an African American President for the first time and the anger at the repetition of the hundreds of deaths of youths of color in our country: hundreds in each of the recent years.
Standing among the tens of thousands at the 50th Anniversary March for Jobs and Freedom in D.C. this weekend, I found myself with a profound sense of being at home. Surrounded by people who shared a commitment to working together, putting our shoulders against the load stone in the service of continuing to work to create a society where all lives are cherished and we are each challenged and supported to fulfill our greatest potentials – a true Beloved community.
The profound sense of unity, joy, and commitment from this weekend will carry me for a while. If you did not hear any of the speeches they are available online and I encourage you to listen! If this was not your life experience learn. If it has been your life or family life’s experience, listen to the inspiration of those who are continuing the fight to create the Beloved Community.
Either way, if we allow our understanding of the world to become limited by our life experiences especially without question or opening hearts to the life experiences of others, we make our lives poorer and less interesting. If we cannot learn to hear the basis of the difference in our life experiences then we may never reach our true and shared birthright as a nation: a Beloved Community that includes all of us.
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