Before I get to the good and hopeful part, I feel as though I need to share some background. Not because you need to know anything about me, but because this reflection, that ends with hope, is about the glimmer of change that I recently witnessed.
I was raised in a violent time, in a loving family. I am aware that this is an important part of my formation. Evil seemed to come from a distant and abstract place.
I was twelve when JFK was murdered; it made an impact on me primary because I could see that it broke my mother’s heart. For certain, I became radicalized on April 4, 1968. In the midst of a foolish and divisive war, Brother Martin was murdered. It wasn’t so much that it was unexpected, it simply didn’t make sense. Medgar Evers and Malcolm X were already gone, but the murder of MLK seemed to make their life and death more present. Perhaps then, like now, it takes an unimaginable evil for folks to finally have had enough.
I was an anti-war protestor at age seventeen in 1968. In another year I would be a draft dodger. When Robert Kennedy died in June, it seems as though it would always be death to anyone that chose to speak out against evil, no matter who they were, or how loving and eloquent their message was. In another few months, “the whole world was watching,” at the Democratic Convention in Chicago where protestors became criminalized. We had learned nothing from the riots in Detroit and Washington.
A significant part of the anti-war “movement” also joined in what we then called Civil Rights protests. I was one of them.
As a suburban kid, there wasn’t much happening in my neighborhood, so the protests happened in Philadelphia. The adults had ruined the society and the earth, and there was a rising voice to say so.
An interesting description of the craziness of the times, for me, was this. In the summer of 1968 I was beaten up by a bunch of black kids my own age, in my own hometown, for being white and alone. Later that summer I was tossed around by a bunch of white men, because I marched for Civil Rights.
By 1969, at age eighteen, I had stopped watching TV news, so as to avoid hearing the nightly body counts. Then came Watergate, absolute proof that the older generation was immoral. That was when I stopped reading the paper. I have not taken part in the news in any way since then, although Facebook makes it a bit difficult to “not know.”
So, as a radical, anti-war, civil rights activist news junkie, I had had enough. Embracing a more contemplative, born out of despair, stature, I embraced Quaker thought and Amish ways. The scriptural encouragement to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world was soothing and appealing. Enter Jesus.
Along with all the ills of the world, I was discovering that, particularly in the anti-war movement, it had become too much like theater, and too much about TV coverage. We were recruited to gather at the Philadelphia Airport, when we knew that soldiers returning from Vietnam would be flying commercial, so that we could call them baby killers on their return home…for TV.
I have told you all of these things, just so that I can speak about today.
I have been encouraging those who criticize protestors and looters to try to understand that these just might be the actions of good people who have simply had enough. A tipping point. A few listen.
Last Sunday I marched in my first protest since way back then. It was decidedly a different experience. Admittedly, my home town of Pottstown is far from any burning city; but it seemed to be filled with a rich diversity of people who had also just “had enough.” It was a beautiful and diverse gathering that included some of each of us. Young, old, children, latino, black, white, asian, even police in uniform from all over that came to march, not to protect or defend.
My big surprise that there was an absolute lack of individual theater or any drama. It was just people, in the most loving way, walking together to shout with one voice. There was much kindness.
While too many are embracing a leadership that speaks with the voice of divisive bullies, I can tell you now that I have seen the best of people, in a terrible time.
I have hope.
Proverbs 24:14 Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.