It’s depressing like a funeral.
I went to the demonstration at Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park because I had to be a body. I’ve gone to funerals sometimes because I’ve gotten it in my head that the bereaved, a dead friend or acquaintance’s relatives, should be able to turn around in their seats and see a sea of people. All I aim to be is part of the sea. I have nothing else to offer but my physical, silent self.
As I stood waiting for the talking to begin, the organizer walked through the crowd asking if there were any other mothers of murdered children. I backed up to get out of the way.
I was ten feet from the mother of a man shot by a Milwaukee police officer. She held a giant color photo of her son in his graduation cap and gown. It was mesmerizing. Her proudest moment, maybe, her son looking so alive and healthy, so full of all she had put into him and whatever his future held. It made me sick. I wanted to cry.
I’ve heard her speak before, her calm presence and determination teaching whoever is ready to listen how to behave as a mother bereaved by violence. If I am ever in this situation or any other that requires extraordinary composure and persistence, I will have a role model.
It’s the day after Ferguson.
A pastor quoted Scripture. He spoke loudly and with great commitment, he exhorted us to insist on fairness, to believe that everyone could live and prosper, and at the end, he raised his hand high in the air in a move that seemed part blessing and part power salute. He wore hand-knit mittens with pink, blue and green yarn, Christmas-y almost.
Before the demonstration, as I was walking the few blocks from my car to Red Arrow Park, I noticed police cars parked, with their lights off. While people were speaking at the park, there was a helicopter overhead. After the speeches, when the crowd headed for the street to march to City Hall, I turned the other way, heading back up the hill back to my car. I wanted to represent, what, I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t want to march in the street. I don’t know why but it was my turn away point.
Walking back to my car, the police cars came alive, their lights flashing, more squads came from all directions, more lights but no sirens, streets were blocked off. At first, I wondered whether something bad had happened. That didn’t make sense since the crowd I’d left was quiet and serious. What trouble could there be? I walked past a group of officers talking and watching the crowd. It gave me little chills.
Then I thought that maybe the police were keeping traffic away so protesters could safely walk in the street. That’s what I wanted to think. But the truth was I didn’t know. I just knew it was time for me to leave and I did. I had gone to the demonstration to contribute to the sea of people and I fear that may be all I have to offer going forward.
It isn’t enough, I can tell you that right now. But that’s all I’ve got.
I was disheartened by this until I remembered Arthur Ashe’s famous advice: Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.