“Boots on the ground”. Such a seemingly benign phrase, falling so easily out the mouths of our politicians, most of whom have never been in battle. But I’m sorry, whether in our day-in-day-out life on the Planet or what’s happening all around it, not every problem gets solved with a knee-jerk militarized response. And lest you think I’m talking about our armed forces going into the Middle East, have you noticed your own police department? Barney Fife is no longer on the payroll. Black uniforms, body armor, automatic weapons and vehicles of every description. My theory is if you think you’re going to need all that hardware, guess what? It gets used. People get shot. I still have difficulty getting my head around the fact that we, as Americans, incarcerate more of our own Citizens than any other country on the Planet. Land of the Free, Home of the Brave indeed. Whatever happened to ‘going to study war no more’?
Seems a simple enough of a premise, doesn’t it? But apply the laws of Supply and Demand and is it any wonder ‘talk’ is so cheap? It’s everywhere. Politicians, big business and the guy at work (you know the one…the one who gets his information from the Planet Zoltar); they all have the same affliction. They can’t stop talking. In fact, they spend so much time talking they never seem to get around to doing any, oh I don’t know, walking.
But put the power of conviction behind the talk and something uniquely human comes out of nowhere. Lincoln used 272 words in the Gettysburg Address. People memorize them to this day. When was the last time anyone wanted to memorize the last 272 words you or I uttered?
Dr. King was a preacher. He understood ‘talk’. But he was also a pastor. He understood ‘walk’. He understood what could happen when people walked together. And remember, it wasn’t just him and a few protesters. Sometimes we forget there were people who had traveled from all over the country to be there that day. Everyone walking that stretch of road on that Sunday morning in 1965 knew what was waiting for them across the Edmund Pettus bridge. White, black, young and old, men and woman…they all knew. And they walked.
For the first time in modern American history, television brought that walk and what happened on the other side of the bridge right into our living rooms. The entire country saw it. “Out of sight. Out of mind” no longer applied. What we saw happening before our very eyes was no longer happening to someone else. It wasn’t history, it was in-the-moment and it was happening to us. How do you put that genie back in the bottle? You don’t. We didn’t. Still haven’t and all because people were walking. I told you it was powerful.
Whether we’re talking about our personal lives or the evolution of our democracy, walk is all about the course corrections.
If you think about it, stop signs don’t go up until someone has been hit by a car. A pessimist looks at the stop sign and says, “Too little, too late”. The optimist sees the same sign and thinks, “Never again”.
The events of Ferguson, MO have served to bring an unflinching clarity to what we as a People will accept and how far we still have to go. Pockets of systematic bigotry and racism are alive and well in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. From everything I’ve seen, the people of Ferguson didn’t have a bridge, but they did have a police department pushing and harassing them to the point where all they could do was put up their hands and say ‘Don’t Shoot’. They chose to walk their bridge.
It was because of events like Selma, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became the Law of the Land. Water fountains and lunch counters became equal. We saw we’d been wrong and changed it. We made corrections.
The aftermath of Ferguson has given us another blistering biopsy of just what modern-day racism looks like, and within whom it lives. It is important we all bear witness. It is significant we note the sight of elected officials of Ferguson squirming as they are confronted with what institutionalized hatred looks like. It is right they be held accountable for a Police Department which turns out, was floating most of the city’s budget by ticketing and/or arresting mostly African Americans. After being pushed and harassed to the point of breaking, the people in Ferguson walked out of their homes and into their streets with their hands held high. “Don’t shoot.” We cared because we saw it on television and online. And when we did, we instinctively knew it could happen on our street too. Scary stuff.
Scared citizens are not good for the business of Democracy. The good news is We the People have people, people like those in the Justice Department. Looking into civil rights abuses is one of the things they do. Because it was a priority with us, the whole ugly business became a priority for them. When they were done looking at everything about Ferguson and its’ police department, the subsequent reports were scathing. Because the citizens had walked, the elected officials of Ferguson got stomped, and change was in the coming. It’s what we do. We see where we’re screwing up and we make corrections.
You can’t just walk this off. What we see in Ferguson is not healing. But without it, the healing can’t begin. Dr. King didn’t come up with the idea of non-violent civil disobedience, but he understood it. When asked about his tactics with the British, Ghandi said, “Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.” In a similar vein, how did King come to such an intimate understanding of what made walking powerful? I wonder if it didn’t have to do with something else he talked and walked, namely forgiving the ones who had been doing the beating. Whether institutional or personal, forgiveness confounds hatred and bigotry. It is not found in any report, however blistering. Nor is it without its requirements, prerequisites for even the possibility of healing.
Forgiveness is free, but it is not cheap. For me, the hardest (and most necessary) parts of my redemption as a person have been when I’ve put myself in the shoes of the person I have wronged; feeling the hurt I’ve caused in someone else. But when it happens, the searing presence of remorse can cauterize any wound Hatred can inflict. It is in that moment when we have nothing left but to offer a humble apology and ask for the others forgiveness that the healing begins.
I applaud the path the Justice Department has taken on our behalf. They could have forced all manners of retribution down the throats of the city fathers of Ferguson, but they didn’t…at least not yet. Instead they asked, “Tell us Ferguson. What are you going to do to fix this?”
And if they don’t? The feds can dismantle the entire department and rebuild it from scratch. I liken it to when a group of teens has trashed an empty home for the sake of a rave. There is something oddly right about them being the ones who have to clean it up. Consequences to be sure, but one of them is the possibility of forgiveness.
When I learn better, my challenge is do better the next time; to ‘walk the line’ now that I understand what I’ve done. No matter on which side of the forgiveness equation you’re on, good faith is necessary. Though less elegant, I am reminded of the phrase, ‘Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice, shame on me.’
It is important we don’t just pass a new law or a host of revised regulations. If remorse was genuine and forgiveness granted, we must still remain vigilant. Hatred is an equal opportunity predator and no respecter of persons. The old, the young, woman, people of color and the GBLT community of which I am a part – all have reason to never quit walking. If a police department can get away with what they had been doing for so long, is it any wonder there’s been another shooting of an unarmed teen in Madison, WI? Who is next? Sikhs? Hispanic children? Kids enslaved by the sex trade operating across our country? Or how about the people that don’t vote, people like the homeless?
We have a choice.
We choose to keep walking. We’ll know we’ve arrived at a good and perfect union when everyone is free. No one will have to tell us. We will know.
Or, as a Nation, each of us can choose to keep doing what we’ve been doing and act surprised when we find ourselves forced to walk the proverbial plank.
We are not a bad pirate movie. We are participants in the greatest experiment of self-governance the world has ever seen. Farmers walked to Lexington. Black men enlisted in the Union army and woman marched for the right to vote. In the here and now, each one of us is walking every time we commit a random act of kindness. Every time we take a step to defend someone’s reputation in the face of office gossip or decide to do what we can to feed the least of us, we cross a bridge.
Put some real boots on the ground this week and do something revolutionary. Love one another.
Dr King crossing the Alabama River_AP: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article7402157.html; Walk the Talk: http://www.lovecherishadore.com.au/supplier/walk-talk-kitchen-catering/; Selma Protesters and the Police: http://www.yellowbullet.com/forum/showthread.php?t=553626; Walk it Back derivative. Original work at: https://www.tumblr.com/search/calm%20down%20children%20gif; Walk it Off derivative: Original work at: http://dulinsgrovechurch.org/thebody/2015/02/13/unmasking-forgiveness/; Gandhi quote: http://forusa.org/blogs/for/peace-quotes-mahatma-gandhi/10229; Walk the Line: http://www.musicfestivaljunkies.com/festivals/walk-the-line-festival-2012/; President Barack Obama crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge March 7th, 2015. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images as seen at: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_eye/2015/03/06/selma_anniversary_how_the_edmund_pettus_bridge_design_influenced_the_bloody.html; Ricks Strawberry Cheese Cakes: by dan4kent
PS: Before I go, I thought I’d tease you with the cheesecakes Rick made last night. One of them is for our neighbor and no, Jenny Craig was not involved. You walk where you can. Who knew Love could also be delicious?
— ## —