Since I last wrote, I’ve been to Washington D.C. twice: August 24 and September 15. I’m gearing up for my next visit on Thursday, October 26, when I’ll report for duty as usual at 9:00 a.m. sharp. This is the sixth month in a row that I’ve demonstrated in front of the White House, and I’m heading into 2018 as well.
Just moments ago I wrote in an email to someone who was inquiring about Meet Up Speak Out, “I don’t know if it’s doing any good but I can sleep a little better at night.” I sent the email and then stopped to really think about that phrase: “I don’t know if it’s doing any good.”
Why did I rethink? Here’s why:
-The educator from Chicago who took a photo with the DACA sign to print out when she got home. It’s going on the bulletin board in her office so that her Dreamer students can see that people do care about this issue and want them to stay.
-The businessman who, after finishing a client meeting inside the White House, told me that he felt he needed a shower after being there. He didn’t know what to do so he wandered a little and our paths crossed. Our subsequent conversation was a figurative soap and washcloth.
-The prayer group that prayed with me, without vetting my politics, to open the hearts and minds of our leaders and fill them with love and compassion.
-The Muslim woman of Syrian descent who talked with me about her children, both American citizens, who were worried that they would get sent away after the election.
-The couple who supported Trump, with whom I had a lengthy and calm conversation. None of us were going to change our minds but we had a chance to ask each other questions and clarify positions. Just like grown ups!
-The father/daughter anti-abortion activists who were interested in my signs and in my views about choice. Again, we didn’t change each other’s minds but we found insight and maybe even a little bit of understanding. They thanked me for not just yelling and swearing at them, which sounds like happens quite a bit.
-The powerful feeling of being part of a trio of protesting women — one of whom I’d just met that day and the other who has joined me 3 times since we connected in June.
-The surprising conversation with a gentleman from Nashville who I placed in a certain ideological box while he was walking by. I was starkly reminded that I shouldn’t create those boxes when he came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for being out there.
-The teenaged boy who was being intentionally loud in expressing his very conservative viewpoints. A friend told him, while giving me a side eye, “Dude, keep it down.” I responded, “Don’t keep it down. It’s the First Amendment, you’re allowed to speak your mind. If you can’t do it here in front of the White House, where can you do it?”
-The excitement from a woman who had come all the way from Chicago with her signs that perfectly complemented the ones I had that day.
-The group of 50 African-American women from Los Angeles who hugged and photographed and made my day. I can’t believe I don’t have a single photo from those whirlwind moments, but here’s the sign that was featured in the photos.
-The young men behind the counter at the café who insisted that, because of my DACA sign, they would not let me pay for my iced tea.
Upon reflection, those moments feel like a lot of the good I wasn’t sure about when I wrote that email. I’m not giving all of these examples to say how great I am for being out there. I’m already chagrined by how many times the pronouns “I” and “me” appear in this document. I’m just a mom with a sign. This is something I felt called to do without much expectation on what would unfold. And it has all been unexpected, both what I’m learning from others and the roles that I’m playing in these different interactions.
For some I am a conduit for cleansing conversation. For others, I provide a touchstone of hope in a time of need. And yet for others, I am a progressive who is willing to engage with them even though they think differently. For some I may be a comfort, a stress, a nutjob or anything in between. I hope that for all, I am a reminder about the importance of preserving our First Amendment freedoms.
As a person of faith I am compelled to take a quick sidebar on the First Amendment: religious freedom does not give us the right to discriminate. If anything, it charges us with the responsibility to protect the rights of all.
Meet Up Speak Out’s original purpose was not just so I could sleep better (although I admit it’s a nice side effect). It was to create an opportunity for people to come together without having to wait for an officially organized protest. I am reiterating my invitation here and now to anyone who is interested and available — please come join me. If not this month, then the month after that, or the month after that. Unfortunately, I don’t see an end in sight so you’ll have plenty of choices.
I know that money and time are at a premium and if you can’t make it, I understand. I truly appreciate your support in many other ways. But if you can, do. It’s not that I’m lonely, though I would welcome the company as well as the opportunity to share my snacks. I want you to experience being out there for one day or one afternoon or one hour and the impact it makes on you and those around you, in ways that you never expected.
If you are interested in seeing videos from my past visits, please visit Meet Up Speak Out’s Facebook page. Consider giving it a follow if you want to see more from future visits.