Rain and Shine

It’s done! My first “Meet UP Speak OUT” visit to the White House is complete. Thursday, May 11 was a cold, wet, and wonderful day. So wonderful, in fact, that I’m struggling with writing this piece because there is so much to say.

Let’s back up a little, to May 10. I was on the ground on the east coast with a belly full of homemade pie goodness, courtesy of my talented cousin, and a heart full of hugs from her energetic trio of kids. After checking the weather report confirming it was going to rain all day, I did my best to fall asleep on Eastern time. My anxiety gave way to excitement. I felt READY. Modular, double-sided, six-sign system? Check. One blank sheet and an extra Sharpie just in case I needed a new message during the day because who knows what’s going to happen next? Check. Mobile phone charger? Check. Umbrella? Check. Galoshes that my cousin happened to have in her car that she was going to return but they fit me perfectly so I bought them from her so my feet would stay dry and warm? Check. A peace-filled spirit, knowing I was called to do this? Check.

And finally sleep.

The next morning, I arrived at the White House at 9:00. I felt strangely compelled to make sure I was there on time, even though I wasn’t meeting anyone. Today, this was my job and I meant to do it right.

The weather report didn’t lie. It was raining. It rained on me as I walked and stood and prayed, it rained on my sign system valiantly fighting to stay together, and it rained on the many school groups visiting the White House. No one else was out protesting that morning except for the permanent protest on the edge of Lafayette Park. One high school teacher approached me and thanked me for being there. “We’re learning about the First Amendment today,” he said. I couldn’t have been more pleased to be a living example of free speech (and a possible photo prop) for the many groups of young people who passed by that day.

“Affordable Healthcare is a Right, Not a Luxury.” “Women: 51% of the U.S. Population. 0% of the Senate healthcare work group.” “Stop Separating Families.” These are some of the signs that eventually disintegrated in the sideways rain. After about 90 minutes I’d given my foam core to the permanent protesters for their own use. I folded my stack of paper into a small square and wrote “Choose Love, Not Fear” to tide me over until lunchtime. And I walked and stood and prayed.

After a while my belly rumbled for a sandwich, and my extremities cried out for a warm, dry place. Sandwich? Check. Dried out paper, refolded with a couple of new messages? Check. Toasty hands and feet? Check. Recharged mobile phone? Check. Let’s go!

The afternoon brought more walking and standing and praying with my revised, smaller signs. One side reiterated my “Affordable Healthcare…” sentiment, while the other said “Independent Investigation NOW!” The afternoon also brought connection.

Right when I returned from lunch, I spoke with a snappily dressed couple standing purposefully with a #RESIST sign under plastic. (“Smart,” I thought to myself. “Wish I’d thought of that. Next time, lamination!”) Daniel and Marione have been together for 60 years. She is an author and a Holocaust survivor, and they are both clearly dedicated to democracy in action. After the inauguration, they were at the White House every day for 2 months. Now they come out every Thursday around lunch. I know I will be seeing them again!

Another significant connection that afternoon was with a group of young people who were spending the week with Close Up DC to study government and the foundations of our democracy. That day they were learning about protests, so once again I was a handy teaching tool! Hearing their experiences and listening to their questions gave me much needed hope for our future. And it gave me extra motivation to keep walking and standing and praying until my “shift” was over at 5:00 p.m.

In spite of the less than ideal weather, the day was over too soon. I won’t lie — I was excited to get into a nice warm car when my cousin’s husband picked me up on the corner of Pennsylvania and 17th. But the next day I felt sad that I had to leave — that I couldn’t spend the day in front of the White House again, that I had to wait until June 28.

I’m back home now, thankful for the embrace of my husband and daughter in the bright Southern California sunshine. But it feels like it’s still raining. The current storm of news fills me with anger: Sessions trying to bring back mandatory minimum sentences that target communities of color and enrich the private prison industry; members of Congress complicit in the face of an incompetent administration while pursuing their cruel desire to decimate affordable healthcare; our “Commander-in-Chief” sharing classified information in a desperate, thoughtless attempt to be liked.

And yet, hope remains. The Supreme Court has declined to hear the repressive North Carolina voter ID law, effectively rendering it obsolete; the Senate has upheld a regulation to control the release of methane from oil and gas wells on public land; U.S. Bank has become the first major bank to stop financing pipeline construction (making me seriously consider changing banks); and people I know, as well as people I don’t know, are lovingly supporting me in this endeavor.

Hope must remain. We are the sun that shines through the rainclouds. We must walk and stand and pray for our children, for ALL children.

Upcoming dates for Meet UP Speak OUT are: June 28, July 13, August 24. Visit www.meetupspeakout.com for more information.