On Saturday, January 21, I took part in a demonstration. For weeks my daughter had been talking of taking part in the national 'women's' demonstration scheduled for the day after the inauguration in Washington D.C, and had gone online in search of a more local event which, she had hoped, I would be able to join. The closest event being planned turned out to be in Grand Rapids and she decided that it might be too great a reach for the old man and dropped the subject.
Later, while perusing my email, I encountered a missive from one Caitlin Maloney from the "Courage Campaign" with the heading "Women's March on Washington: The pussy grabs back". How could one resist such an appeal? Indeed. I found myself irresistibly drawn to participate once again, to take to the ramparts and register my protest; to become part of the resistance.
Accordingly, I looked up the information regarding the particulars of the event in Grand Rapids and decided that I, too, would join the march.
The event was held on Saturday, January 21, at the Fountain Street Church. For those not in the know, Grand Rapids' Fountain Street Church is a venue which has hosted everyone from U2 to Winston Churchill and has long been a rallying point for those seeking expression. Originally constructed as a Baptist Church it became, decades ago, nondenominational and has accordingly become an institution giving free expression to a range of religious and non-religious points of view.
I made my arrangements and arrived at ten in the morning as the event was getting underway.
I made the journey alone. Upon arriving I found myself wondering about the narthex of the cathedral where the organizers had placed several tables upon which were items for sale. I found myself spending ten dollars on a sign reading:
IN THIS HOUSE, WE BELIEVE:
BLACK LIVES MATTER
WOMEN'S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS
NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL
SCIENCE IS REAL
LOVE IS LOVE
KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING
I purchased the item as a means of making a contribution to the cause as well as to have a souvenir that I could then pass on to my daughter who was, at that very moment, in Washington D.C. taking part in the center-stage event around which several hundred local protests were organized.
As I wondered about, a woman approached me from behind and, taking my arm, pulled me aside to inquire what I was doing there. I was a bit taken aback by the approach thinking that perhaps she had mistaken me for an errant tRUMP voter who, now seeking ablution, was now about the business of assuaging his conscience if not, by making a rare appearance in church, appealing now to a higher authority lest the grim reaper arrive before forgiveness is bestowed upon this lost soul. I gently explained that I was here in support of my daughter who was now taking to the ramparts in the nation's capitol. She seemed satisfied with my explanation and I could discern in her countenance that forgiveness was not in order and that I was indeed welcome into the fold. I then walked about a bit, took my sign to my van for safekeeping, and then returned in time to find a place in the pews as the event got underway.
There was a bit of poetry reading, including a choice by Langston Hughes' I, Too, Sing America" followed by someone about to set up and sing some protest songs when someone once again tapped me on the arm. I turned to find that the same lady who had buttonholed me earlier inquiring if I would mind being interviewed on local television. I followed her out of the church into the daylight and was introduced by a channel 8 reporter for WOOD-TV of Grand Rapids. I was led to a nearby stairway where she set up the camera and, standing behind the camera she asked her first question:
"As a white man", she queried, "what brings you here today?"
I was a bit taken aback. Has 'identity' politics come this far? Nonplused, I soldiered on.
"As a white man for sure," I responded, "but also as a father and a great grandson..." I then went on to explain that a century ago my grandmother and great grandmother who were area organizers for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and, along with my great uncle, demonstrated for women's suffrage; and that indeed the struggle, now well more than a century old, continues today. In their remembrance, and in support of my daughter who was at the ramparts in D.C., I am here today. Indeed along with the more than 280 others who had left Fountain Street Church and traveled to D.C. by bus from Grand Rapids earlier in the week.
I then joined the march from the Fountain Street Church to Rosa Parks Circle located at Campau Square. As we approached our destination a certain de ja vu overwhelmed me. It had been nearly half a century since I walked these streets and took part in a political event and as I looked about and registered what had and had not changed since that distant spring morning in April 1968, I could still hear that voice in my ears. (1)
"There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
some forever, not for better
Some are gone, and some remain. --The Beatles "In My Life"
I had started out earlier in the day quite alone seeking only to add my support by my participation in an event that would involve, across the country, many millions of people. I ended up, quite by chance, on the local news. It is indeed strange how these things sometimes evolve; hard to know what life has, at any given time, in store. I had set out in search of an event only to find myself confronting not only my turbulent age, but my own distant youth. My daughter had been right. It was indeed quite a reach for the old man.
(1). See previous post: April 11, 2008: A Sunny Afternoon at Campau Square, "There aren't any Republicans Here, Are There?", Great Leaders Don't Grow On Trees