“in order to form a more perfect union . . .”
The United States of America is an idea, a beautiful idea, a vision of what could be. It’s the idea of a group of people bound together, not by tribe or religion, not by birthplace or clan or color of skin, but by a belief in certain truths. Such as, the truth of equality (in our beingness, no one is better than anyone else). And the truth of innate deservability (everyone deserves the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness).
These truths have been percolating for centuries in the heart-mind of humanity, and when enough people had enough belief in them, they were written down in a bold statement, A Declaration of Independence. And that same small group of brave, brilliant, and imperfect people pledged their lives, fortunes, and honor to creating a country based on their vision. They fought a war for that vision, and when it came time to form the government that could support these truths and secure the unalienable (which means “can’t be taken away”) rights of its people, they got together again and, after a long, difficult labor, birthed our Constitution.
But, of course, the United States is more than an idea—it’s also the ongoing project of making the “self-evident truths” a living reality for all its citizens. We’ve been at this project for two hundred forty one years now, and some progress has been made. But given the imperfectness of people, and our entrenched and fear-based mindsets, there’s still a long ways to go. To take the next step toward embodying the vision, we usually have to become really uncomfortable with “what is”. Because of all that, and because I dearly love the crazy, holy idea that is the United States of America, I took a step. I joined the Women’s March on Washington.
Friday afternoon, January 20th
As I leave my home for the bus to D.C., I’m stressed that it’s later than when I had planned to leave. Elevator or stairs? I turn toward the elevator and breathe deeply for the six flights down. As the door opens, our postman is sorting mail into the thirty boxes. “Oh good, maybe my metro card has finally come!” I check my box and it’s not there. He asks, “Which unit are you?” and then goes through another pile. He asks where I’m going and why, and I tell him. His face lights up . . . and lights up even more as he finds the letter from the Washington Transit Authority and hands it to me with a flourish! I glide out of the lobby on the warmth of his smile.
Later, like everyone else on the crowded bus, it takes me a while to squeeze my too-much-stuff into the small space provided. Finally, I sit down next to my friend Kristie. As the bus leaves the parking lot, everyone cheers. We’re excited, yes, but I sense that no one is going on this trip for a lark. Or because it will be comfortable or easy (hardly). It’s something we need to do—for reasons, both common and deeply personal, but reasons we apparently share that day with a few million other marchers around the world.
Barely out of the parking lot, I know I need to get quiet inside. Kristie, a longtime meditator herself, understands. So the first hour of the ride we hold sacred silence. I meditate, and pray for the country and the world. It’s like praying for family, the close cousins and the distant relatives, the ones we like and those we don’t. I pray for the Earth, too, because concern for her health and well-being (on which all life depends) is a big part of why I’m on this bus.
During rest-stops, I meet some of my fellow travelers. Teachers, counselors, environmentalists, administrators, retirees, snowbirds, techies. Mostly women (several mother-daughter pairs) but three men also (two older guys with their wives and a little boy with his mom). It’s a lively group until late. Then, even though it’s quiet, sleep eludes most of us for much of the night. The bus pulls into a gray, chilly parking lot at RFK Stadium around 7 am. People are spilling out of a multitude of buses, and it’s a bit chaotic, but after three forays back into the bus for more layers, we join the pilgrimage around the stadium, past the many hawkers of t-shirts, hats, signs, and buttons, and towards the metro stop. First mission: find a coffee stand. I do, and so the day can officially begin.
9:41 am, January 21st
Thousands of marchers from Florida gathered by the Library of Congress, and now we are moving en masse down Independence Avenue toward the rally. I call Mike. I have to share this moment with him. Tears are streaming down my face as I describe the scene, the people, the incredible diversity, the Dome of the Capitol right there! And especially, the energy (jubilant, purposeful, united, alive!). Margaret Wheatley once wrote “there is no greater power than a community discovering what it cares about,” and I’m feeling that power now. I get choked up reading out loud the hundreds of clever, creative signs dancing above our heads in all directions. I get what a privilege it is to be here. This is democracy in action. This is—thank you, First Amendment—free speech, freedom to assemble. This is history. Or should I say herstory . . .
For the next five hours, Kristie and I are inside this amazing sea of humans. We, the people, are striding, strolling, getting stuck and squeezed, limping, laughing, chanting, and pushing wheelchairs and strollers. Giddy just to be here even if we never get close enough to hear the speeches from the stage. (We don’t). We meet people from all over; sing the Star Spangled Banner with a living statue of Blind Justice; say “as salamu alaykum” to a smiling lady in hijab; dance to a Cyndi Lauper song (you know which one) that is blasting from a portable speaker on top of a woman’s head; and someone even pees behind bushes on 6th Street while Kristie keeps lookout. When we can’t walk anymore, we perch and people-watch on the cold concrete of a low wall. We move over so more people can join us on the wall. The body warmth feels good.
One scene stands out in my mind: A man in dark clothes holds a Bible and speaks in a low monotone into a scratchy microphone. His sign says something about whoredom. No one is listening to him because in front of him is a girl holding a poster high above her head and passionately reminding us, over and over: “GOD LOVES EVERYBODY! GOD LOVES EVERYBODY!” This defiant young angel in her preppy sweater and short plaid skirt, with her face wet with tears, is Life proclaiming another self-evident truth—the truth of Love. That Love is the all-inclusive, unconditional, ultimate reality that hasn’t stopped asking for our attention since time began. And it won’t stop asking until we get it: That all-inclusive means no one is left out … not immigrants, inmates, minorities, lesbians, gays, or nasty women. Not the man in the dark clothes or the man in the White House. That unconditional means you don’t have to earn love, you deserve it because you are. And that ultimate means it’s always here … even though it may be very hard to see because we’re so good at blocking it. And, because Love is never intrusive, it never forces or asserts itself on anyone but only invites, we have to want it and look for it beyond those entrenched mindsets . . . and say yes to it.
If this were easy, it would be a very different world. We would all be living the realized dream. But it’s not easy. When we see injustice or cruelty, we hate it. When hurtful, harmful things happen, we get angry. Our anger is our inner alarm system and it’s there to wake us up and get us moving. However, if we act from that anger, it often fuels more hatred, fear and violence. But to take the time to learn how to shift from anger to peace, from fear to love—and then to take action—that is the work of spiritual warriors. Like Jesus and Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, John Lewis. How much time does it take to learn how to shift? It takes both a lifetime, and an instant. But this is the work of manifestors, of peacemakers, of world-changers.
Of people, potentially, like you and me.