Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Peace In Numbers

I thought we were going to get thrown out before the parade even began, as we walked past the police guarding the entrance to the campus of the college that was the origin of the march, cole suddenly broke out into song. Old MacDonald, to be specific. To be PRECISE, I believe he was singing something like "Oink oink here...and an oink oink there...oink oink oink." Certainly, this is a child with a sense of irony.

There are no words to describe the feeling one gets walking down an avenue that is usually congested with automobiles, completely surrounded by other people walking down the avenue for the same reason. The Austin crowd (estimated by the media at 5,000) was nowhere near the size of the crowds in DC and elsewhere, but the fact that the street was packed from curb to curb as far as I could see in front of me and as far as I could see behind me was absolutely awe inspiring.

I have been trying to read books about MLK to Monk all month. MLK and the civil rights movement of his time. Monk has refused to listen, telling me "that's boring." But I could tell today he felt something. He was moved.

mama: Do you see all of these people here, Monk?
Monk: Yeah...pretty big crowd.
Mama: Do you know why they are all here?
Monk: No.
Mama: Remember that man I have been trying to tell you about? Dr. King?
Monk: Yeah.
Mama: This is his birthday party. All of these people are here because of him. To celebrate the fact that he was born. And even though he's dead now, we all remember him.
Monk: He must have been a very important person...

We walked for miles, I think. I'm not sure how many miles. I'm not sure if it WAS multiple miles, but it was a long walk. Cole was in the backpack, and Monk walked next to me, holding my hand. I kept checking with Monk to make sure he was doing ok. I didn't want him to over-exert himself. He was stoic. Wordless. With a fixed look of...I don't even know. He wasn't talking about what he was feeling, but he wasn't stopping. He wasn't giving up. I lifted him up so he could see the crowd in front and the crowd in back. He was impressed, but still did not say much. A man told us that there were more people behind us than there were ahead of us. All of them, marching. Strangely quiet. Very little talking, very faint traces of a band somewhere. An occasional drummer. An occasional chorus of chanting. But, otherwise, simply quiet conversation. A peaceful demonstration.

At one point, I reminded Monk that it would be ok if he couldn't go on. We had been walking for an hour, and I thought perhaps he was feeling a little tired. He was determined to go on, but after about five more minutes, he said he needed to step. He couldn't go a step further.

I told him i was proud of how far we had come, and that it was perfectly ok to stop now. We walked over to the edge of the road and sat on the grass to watch the rest of the parade go by. So many people.

Monk (whispering in my ear): Mom...this looks like a riot!
Mama: I guess it kind of is a riot. It's a non-violent riot. All of these people are gathered together as a group to let everyone know that we stand for peace. And, while it's not violent, it's certainly sending a message. We are saying that we don't agree with violence. We don't agree with war. We don't agree with injustice. It's what Martin Luther King was all about, Monk. It's what I've been trying to tell you all month.
Monk: (silent)
Mama: And you want to know something, too? Each of these people individually made a choice to be here, and together...these individuals created a group of people who are strong and united for a cause. Any of these people could have stayed at home and not participated, and the whole would have suffered for it. Instead, each of these people chose to be here, and we are all making a powerful statement about how we feel.
Monk: Mom?
Mama: Yes?
Monk: I'm ready to continue walking.
Mama: I love you, son. I'm so proud of you.

It wasn't much further before we reached the party at the end of the march. We hung out for a little while, enjoying some free bananas and oranges and water supplied by the local grocery chain. Monk tends to get a little freaked out by crowds. He held it together so well today, but I could tell he was hitting the end of his rope. As we made our way through the crowd, one of the women who had walked with us for a time said "You made it!" She told me there were shuttle buses that would take us back to the college.

The backpack was unwieldy and awkward, and I kept running into people. Everyone was so nice. After profusely apologizing for bumping one woman, she said, so sincerely, "It's OK. Don't apologize. I know you have your hands full. I know it's hard to navigate through here."

We made our way over the the shuttle buses. The bus we got on was already full, but they packed us in. "Move to the back," they said. Of course, I had this huge backpack to push through the crowd. It was difficult to get through. There was a man with an empty seat beside him. I asked him if he minded if cole sat there. He said "no problem." He helped me with the backpack. He made faces at Cole...and put his hat on him...and listened with sincere interest to coley's babble about cockroaches and giant robots. He was a very nice man. A genuinely nice man.

Me: My son made it the whole way!
Nice man: Is that so? Way to go!
Me: many people do you think were there?
Nice man: Difficult to say, but you know you're not going to get the right answer from the media or the police. Just like the demonstrations in DC.
Me: It seemed like such a huge crowd.
Nice man: yeah...but I'm sad to say, I'm not sure that it will make a difference.
Me: You know what? I think it made a difference to me. I think it made a difference to my kids. Is that enough of a difference?

(previously posted on full bleed...but I thought I would share it with the sisters.)

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