July Fourth Without Fireworks

We’ve been here before. My generation well remembers the “love it or leave it” era: Vietnam, civil rights, Earth Day, marches and demonstrations versus “My country, right or wrong.” The newer version appears to be “My country is never wrong and never has been.” Blind patriotism is as old as the mythical emperor who wore no clothes. And thus we swagger and jostle our way into Independence Day, arguably the most patriotic of holidays. 

It’s a quiet Fourth where I live. Due to the imminent threat of wildfire, fireworks are illegal. Usually, sales are brisk at fireworks stands on the Colville Indian Reservation. The night of the Fourth, folks gather at the large East Omak Park on the reservation, directly across the river from my house. As dark descends, the crowd starts shooting off rockets and missiles, sparklers and fiery fountains in a disorganized spectacle of light, color, sound, bravado and glee. 

The lack of all that brings a somber if not sober atmosphere to the Fourth. We have time to reflect, starting with the Declaration of Independence, the beloved document that laid the foundation for our democracy. The document that lists “the repeated injuries and usurpations” committed by the King of Great Britain, including that he “has endeavoured to bring [up]on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages …” 

“Savages” like the Iroquois, whose advanced system of government inspired Benjamin Franklin and other founders? “Savages” like the indigenous bands where I live who for thousands of years mastered the art of wildfire to maintain healthy forests and grasslands? “Savages” whose descendants are now wisely saying, we catch you shooting off even one firecracker and it’ll cost you five thousand bucks. 

The Declaration was written by a brilliant but not perfect man who owned slaves and left a legacy of unacknowledged Black descendants. I recall a Fourth of July decades ago when my late husband was drafted to read the Declaration at a community picnic. John was uncomfortable with the “Savages” line but recognized that it reflected the imperfect views of the time.

I’ve been thinking about how my love for John is something like my love for our country, or at least the ideals of our country. He was an imperfect man with high ideals, married to an imperfect woman. We were well aware of each other’s imperfections, occasionally made note of them, usually in an objective or even humorous manner. Embracing imperfections tightens the bonds of love. When John became gravely disabled, I did everything I could to care for him, to help him heal.

Many see our country as gravely disabled, our democracy at risk, in need of healing. All the more reason for caring, not for some abstract ideal or political “ism,” but for each other. All the more reason for acknowledging past imperfections and the resulting wounds that fester. All the more reason to shine a light on our imperfections, on our wounds, in search of healing and truth.

“America! America! God mend thine every flaw,

“confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”*

*Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929)

The Road Back Goes Only One Way: Forward

There’s nothing like being stuck in traffic to allow time to think through your life. At age seventy-seven, I have plenty to think through. And inching along with traffic in the Seattle area gave me plenty of time. Seattle traffic ranks only the fourteenth worst in the nation (Boston is first). Still, INRIX, a transportation data firm, claims traffic slowdowns cost every man, woman, and child in Seattle seventy-four hours per year. 

Even though I loved living and working in the Seattle area for many years, I’m now a confirmed eastern Washingtonian, thoroughly adapted to rural roads where we slow down because we WANT to. Or because there’s a cow on the road. 

A quiet moment between RVs on the North Cascade Highway

But it was time to emerge from my Covid cocoon. I’d probably still be sequestered had I not been invited to speak at a memorial celebration for a friend in Bellingham. That  required driving over one of the nation’s most scenic mountain routes, the North Cascades Highway. I first chugged along that route in 1974 in a Volkswagen bug. It was the day before the highway, which is closed in winter, was to open for the summer. As a young reporter, I’d wrangled a pass from a highway department official, who drove behind me in his state truck. 

Just imagine cruising along that glorious road with increasingly spectacular mountain crests emerging behind every curve! I didn’t have to pull over to take photos. I’d just stop in the middle of the highway, get out of the car, and start shooting. I’ve driven the North Cascades many times since, but memories of that first trip stay with me. Especially when I’m following a string of view-blocking mega RVs. Or when the scenic pull-outs are so jammed with vehicles and people, you can’t find a place to park. So it was that Friday before Father’s Day, when hundreds, no, thousands of folks were breaking loose the bonds of Covid isolation.

From Bellingham, I decided to continue south to visit friends and family who live at various places along Washington’s Interstate-5 corridor. It seemed as if every milepost held a memory: places I’d visited long ago, events I’d covered, people I knew who no longer are in my life. It was all so familiar, yet everything, everything was different. Small towns have grown into urban centers, city limits bumping into each other. 

Even the freeway is different — more lanes, alternative routes, expressways. A digital sign told me I could take the express lane and pay seventy-five cents to get somewhere (nowhere?) two minutes faster. Now there’s a sign for our times.

None of this was surprising. It’s just a jolt when we’re remembering how things were and confronting how things are. That familiar longing for how things used to be and can’t ever be again. It’s apparent that post-Covid, life will never again be as it was. There’s no return to whatever we think was “normal.”

My father had a wise response when people longed for “the good old days.” 

“Yeah,” he’d chuckle. “Formerly  known as ‘these trying times.’”

After the Fall

“She’s aging gracefully,” said the vet, having examined my soon-to-be 13-year-old black lab, Daphne. That makes one of us, I said to myself. 

Daphne’s heart, lungs, and other vitals were good. But that morning, she’d not been able to put weight on her left rear leg. Diagnosis: She’d pulled a muscle, apparently in a fall. That makes two of us. Together we limped out of the vet’s office, armed with medicines to combat Daphne’s pain and arthritis.

It is generally believed that emergence of our ancestor, homo Erectus, some two million years ago was a sign of evolutionary progress. We had climbed out of trees and no longer walked on all fours. After watching Daphne quickly heal and return to using all four legs, I’m not so sure. Are we human beings really better off with only two feet anchoring us — especially those of us convicted under the law of gravity? In other words, the fallen.

I do not mean to make light of the issue of falling. The National Council on Aging reports that one in four Americans sixty-five years and older fall each year. “Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions for older adults,” says the Council’s website.

My late mother, when in her 90s, leaned down to pick something off the floor, fell, and broke her neck. She ended up with one of those horrible metal halos screwed into her skull. Miraculously, neither the fall nor halo killed her. She eventually succumbed to cancer.

Unlike Mother, I didn’t break anything in my most recent fall. I consider myself fortunate, though bruised from toe to chin, with various injuries including a torn meniscus in my right knee. That was six weeks ago. Under the care of a physical therapist, I’m finally bruise- and pain-free, slowly regaining flexion in the knee. In another week or two I expect I’ll no longer walk like Chester, the long-ago sidekick in the TV show, “Gunsmoke.” Actor Dennis Weaver, who played Chester, invented the limp to make his character unique. He reportedly later regretted the decision, because it wasn’t easy limping week after week. No kidding.

The humiliating part of my fall was that it was my second crash-and-burn inside a month. Both involved dear Daphne, but both are the fault of my failure to simply pay attention. Christmas Day I stepped away from my computer, thinking I was stepping onto the floor. I was really stepping onto Daphne, who I hadn’t noticed was stretched out beside me. After I landed on my back, I lay there for a minute, catching my breath. I realized that my Christmas miracle was that I could get back up again.

I wasn’t so lucky the second time, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was blessedly sunny. Daphne, my other dog Tawny, and I were enjoying a walk at a brisk pace. I was reveling in my good health and mobility at age seventy-six. What’s that old saying about “Pride goeth before a …” CUH-RASH! Distracted, I’d gotten tangled in their leashes and landed on unforgiving asphalt.  I was two blocks from home, pretty sure I hadn’t broken anything, but unable to get up. Not by myself.

Two people — a man and a woman I didn’t know — had been chatting nearby and came over to help. Turned out they were in the middle of moving the woman out of her apartment because  — get this — she was being evicted. They clearly had bigger problems and more important things to do than help me. They insisted on bundling me into their aged van along with my dogs, driving me home, and helping me into the house. When total strangers care for you like that, it’s a taste of heaven.

Despite the frequency of falls, they “are not a normal part of aging,” says the Council on Aging website. In other words, they’re not inevitable. After I get my injuries sorted out, my physical therapist and I will be working on balance techniques. I’m also exploring evidence-based fall prevention programs recommended by the Council.  This is tricky in the era of Covid. Many of these programs are taught in group settings, thus aren’t available right now. Some, however, have moved online, including SAIL (Stay Active and Independent for Life), which offers both real-time Zoom classes and any-time videos. (Check out the “Resources” menu.)

SAIL originated in my state of Washington with studies in 2003 and the development of classes in 2006. It’s now nationwide. The name came about when researchers learned seniors were disinterested in fall-prevention exercise programs but more responsive to the message of “staying active and independent.” Yeah, well, that too. 

I just want to stop falling. It hurts.

The Vaccine

injection-40696_1280Growing up, I’d occasionally hear adults sigh, “Them that has, gets” — a folksy if rueful translation of the maxim, “The rich get richer.” Amidst the current COVID vaccine chaos, a new version might be: “Them that can get, don’t want, and them that want, can’t get.”

As of this writing, fewer than 5 percent of American adults have received the vaccine. I’m surprised and grateful to be among them.  As I was rolling up my sleeve, the individual holding the needle acknowledged not getting the shot personally, adding, “I probably will,” with emphasis on “probably.”

I qualified not because of my age (76), but as a volunteer with the Okanogan Community Homeless Shelters. Other folks in my age group — from Sequim, Washington, to Orlando, Florida — have waited futilely in long lines, some even camping overnight in their cars, desperate to be vaccinated.

At the same time there are folks with “vaccine hesitancy.” It’s a national phenomenon, especially among many front-line health care workers whose responses range from “maybe later” to downright “no.” A hospital in New York reported that only three of nineteen full-time staff members in the respiratory therapy department agreed to get vaccinated. These are the folks who are at great personal risk as they intubate critically ill coronavirus patients.

Reportedly, some employers are offering bonuses, gift cards, and other lures to entice workers to get vaccinated. Other employers are threatening: get shot or get fired. My own Patrick Henry stance is that I’ll fight for other people’s right not to be injected, but I didn’t hesitate. I rolled up my sleeve for the same reason I get a flu shot every winter, for the same reason I wear a mask when around others. It’s really not about me. It’s about living in a community. The healthier each one of us is, the healthier we all are.

The release form I signed before getting the shot was enough to give anyone pause. A six-page fact sheet emphasized the vaccine was “unapproved” and only “may” prevent COVID-19. In lawyerly fashion, it went on to explain the FDA has authorized “emergency use.” It boils down to: don’t even think about suing us.

“The Plague Year,” a long article in New Yorker magazine, is more reassuring, detailing how the vaccines’ development hasn’t been a hurry-up, slap-dash process, but the result of decades of scientific anticipation and research. I had no side effects from that first shot.

Because of COVID and my age, I’d limited my involvement at the homeless shelter this winter to making and delivering two suppers a week. My second shot is scheduled for ten days from now. Then I’ll feel comfortable going back to spending time face-to-face, that is, mask-to-mask with guests. Yes, I’ll continue to wear a mask. Shelter volunteers spend an hour in conversation with guests to establish they are clean (of drugs) and sober, as the shelter requires.

I’ve missed those conversations; it really is about all of us being together again.

A Moving Experience

A friend in her early nineties is moving into an assisted living apartment this week. Nothing unusual about that, except: unlike most of us, in her long life she has never before moved. When she was born, her parents brought her home from the hospital, and she never left. She continued to live in her parental abode after her siblings moved away and her parents died.

It’s not that she’s a shrinking violet. Creative and talented, she had a good career, is loved by friends and families, still socially active. But this business of never moving makes her exceptional. The U.S Census Bureau says the average American moves eleven times in their life. Every year, 14 percent of the population is on the move.

We move because we get a better job, we want a nicer apartment, we need a larger house — and then after a few decades, a smaller one. With each move, we’re anticipating something better. Despite the upheaval, we’re excited and happy. Until that last move, the one that says we can’t live independently any longer. You’d think my friend would be devastated, leaving the only home she’s ever known. But she’s approaching it with her characteristic combination of practicality and grace.

Just think of the moving adventures she has missed all these years: the scrounging for cardboard boxes in which to stuff your stuff, the trauma of deciding what stuff to go and what stuff to throw, the renting of the U-Haul, the drafting of friends to tote that carton, lift that sofa!

I’m above average, having moved fourteen times. Most of my moves have involved an extra element of adventure: a quarter-ton behemoth, my piano. Anyone who’s ever owned a piano has piano-moving horror stories. My worst experience involved a lovely man, with whom I was romantically involved, and three other fellows who hadn’t been able to come up with credible excuses when asked to help.

The four were jockeying the piano through the front door, my guy in the lead, when somehow they knocked the storm door window loose. It fell onto the head of my beloved, shattered, and rested on his shoulders, jagged pieces of glass pointing at his jugular and other vulnerable areas of his neck.

“Don’t move,” whispered one of the men.

“I don’t intend to,” answered my beau, barely moving even his lips.

I was inside the house. The piano, halfway in and halfway out, blocked the doorway. I flew through the living room, dining room, kitchen, out the back door, around the outside to the front porch, where my sweetheart and his buddies were standing, frozen statues. Gingerly, ever so slowly, I lifted the broken window from around his neck. The men set the piano down, and we proceeded to pick glass shards from his clothing.

He was good-natured about it, but it was the beginning of the end. I heard later that he eventually got married, undoubtedly to a woman who did NOT own a piano. I no longer own one either. I make do with a professional-level keyboard. If there’s a fifteenth move in my future, I’ll pack the keyboard –– all fifty-two pounds, eight ounces of it –– into its case and simply roll it away.

IMG_6939

Intemperate Temperatures

When the thermometer tops out at a blistering 95 degrees Fahrenheit, I call it a welcome reprieve. Last week, a friend and I were eyeing the forecasts for triple-digit heat. Her phone predicted 106. My more conservative computer suggested 104. Are you really going to be able to tell the difference between the two, she asked. As it happened, I could not. I was hunkering inside my air-conditioned home when a high of 107 was recorded.

Intemperate temperatures interrupt one of my favorite summer activities: daily opening and closing of the house. The sun thoroughly bakes the Okanogan Valley all day, but when Old Sol drops behind the mountains to the west, the valley begins to cool. When I moved here from the milder, west side of the Cascade Mountains, my husband taught me how to reduce energy costs while savoring nature’s rhythms.

When you wake up in the morning, every window is wide open, allowing a cross-current of cool air throughout your house, which smells like all outdoors, fresh and Freon-free. You luxuriate in this natural ambiance until about mid-morning. If you’re paying attention, you can sense when the air is getting a “leetle” too warm. If you’re not as attentive, you simply wait until your air conditioner clicks on. Either way, you rush around the house, shutting all the windows tight, locking in what remains of the night’s natural air, letting it mingle with mechanically cooled air that’ll get you through the rest of the day.

As evening falls, you start poking your head outside –– or maybe you take an iced drink onto the patio –– and wait for the reverse situation, the point at which the outdoor air is cooler than the air inside. Reverse the morning’s activity, open all the windows, and you’re ready for a good night’s sleep minus the rumbling hum of an air conditioner.

It’s kind of like a liturgy, a ceremony, almost sacred. Last week, however, the essential nighttime cooling never happened. The low temperature was too high for opening the house. For the first time since we began the lockdown in March, I felt truly locked in, isolated. I could better understand the dilemma of city dwellers who live in climate-controlled apartments and have no way of connecting with nature. I sat at my computer, gazing out the window at hummingbirds drinking from my hanging plant and trumpet vine. Flying free, they cast an occasional glance at me, the caged animal in the zoo.

Of course, I have two dogs for companionship. Both are shedding so copiously it’s a wonder there’s any hair left on them. The air conditioner fan distributes the fur evenly throughout the house.

My isolation is interrupted, too, by watching flotillas of inflatables and kayaks drift downriver with sun lovers aboard. I know from my own experiences floating the river that the cool water mitigates the sun’s intensity. And, hey. It’s only a balmy 95 degrees!

fullsizeoutput_2519

Unmasked

“But she started it!”

That childhood (and childish) protest came to mind last week after a brief exchange with a woman I’ve known for some four decades. I was on my once-a-week outing to shop, properly masked, waiting for the clerk in a small store to run my credit card.

The woman approached me saying, “Look at this, Mary.” She was holding up a badge on a lanyard that apparently declared she was absolved from wearing a face mask. I didn’t care to read it thoroughly, because she was indeed not wearing a face mask. I stepped back, blurting, “Oh, but I believe in wearing a mask! It shows I care about other people.”

“Well,” she replied. “I guess I care about myself first.” As she moved away, I grabbed my purchase and credit card, called what I hoped was a friendly-sounding “goodbye,” and hastened out the door.

For many years I’ve been studying the Non-Violent Communication methods of the late Marshall B. Rosenberg. That brief conversation did not demonstrate even a basic grasp of the NVC process. Dr. Rosenberg encourages us to respond with empathy, with an attempt to understand the other person’s feelings.

“Are you feeling angry,” I might’ve asked, “because you believe the order to wear a mask infringes on your civil liberties?” Or,

“Are you feeling apprehensive,” I could’ve asked, “because you’ve seen or heard claims that masks might sometimes be dangerous?”

But I didn’t. I left the shop despairing of her selfishness. She was probably despairing of my prigishness, both of us judging the other, eliminating any possibility of mutual understanding. Rosenberg taught that a basic component of NVC is a willingness to spend time. With a pandemic raging, with case counts suddenly soaring in our small community, I didn’t believe I could afford the time to explore a route toward mutuality with someone standing inches away, not wearing a mask.

I believe Rosenberg would’ve approved if I’d simply said something noncommittal, like “How about that!” Or I could’ve affirmed that she was making her point clear with, “Appears you don’t believe in masks,” and just got the heck out of there. While I don’t know her well, I know enough about her life to be aware of setbacks and tragedies. She just wants to feel safe and free, as do we all––especially now.

“Yeah, but . . . ” you want to say. I hear you. So when there seems to be no right way to proceed, I harken back to Dorothy Day, the great social activist and religious leader. In June 1946, she was pondering the terrible state of the world: everything from atom bomb tests to housing shortages and global starvation. She concluded: “we face the situation that there is nothing we can do for people except to love them.”

Dorothy Day added a prayer: “ … dear God––please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.”

IMG_2868

In-Dependence Day

The quiet that descends after our raucous Fourth of July is a welcome break, a chance to take a breath before the campaign season assaults us with the inevitable fireworks of slogans and slander.

We especially needed July Fourth this year as a time to come together, metaphorically if not physically. It’s our annual paradox of celebrating “independence” while acknowledging our de-pendence on community. Where I live, people are especially protective of their independence, or as my husband liked to describe it: “As independent as hogs on ice.”

Still, I relish the way my community celebrates the Fourth, particularly in this time of social distancing. There are no commercially sponsored or organized fireworks displays. Instead, folks patronize the various fireworks stands that pop up in late June, buying up individual stockpiles of noise and glitter.

fullsizeoutput_24e4East Side Park, on the Colville Indian Reservation across the river from my home, is the designated shoot-em-up area for a DIY pyrotechnics show. The spectacle begins as the sky darkens, around nine p.m., and lasts until nearly midnight. There’s plenty of space in the park, some seventy acres or so, for people to spread out and fill the sky with a thoroughly impromptu but dazzling show.

Volunteer fire crews are on hand to quickly douse the small blazes that inevitably erupt. I figured this year’s show, given pandemic and economic concerns, would be smaller than usual. The newspaper reported the crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 people was smaller. Still, the show was as extravagant as always, especially with Mother Nature contributing a display of her own.

fullsizeoutput_24eaA full moon provided an elegant backdrop to the bursts of color. Not only a full moon, but one in “penumbral eclipse.” That, explains the Farmer’s Almanac is “when the Moon crosses through the faint outer edge of Earth’s shadow (the penumbra), making part of the Moon appear ever-so-slightly darker than usual.” I could not discern any darker shades of moon, particularly when it was illuminated by fireworks.

To accommodate the inevitable litter created by the event, dozens of large metal barrels are placed throughout the park to serve as garbage receptacles. Sunday morning as my dogs and I took our daily walk, I noted the barrels were filled to overflowing and a degree of litter was spread on the ground.

Monday morning, a city crew was tackling the celebratory residue.

“Thanks for your work!” I called out to the men as the dogs and I walked past.

“You’re welcome. Thanks for paying us!” one of them responded.

“My pleasure!” I answered, and meant it. My own independence is a fantasy. I get to believe in it only because I can depend on others.

DSC_0223
A Fourth of July moon over the Okanogan River

How Flawed a Foundation

IMG_1259
A firm foundation––often invisible, always essential

Builders laid the foundation this week for a new home four doors down the street from my house. One of the city’s oldest residences had stood vacant for years on this prime, riverfront lot. A local businesswoman bought the property, tore down the old house before it could collapse on its own, and is building her dream home.

Though largely invisible, foundations are essential. When my husband and I moved into our vintage home thirty-six years ago, we were aware there were some foundation issues. One bedroom had a floor that sagged so badly, we couldn’t use the room. We simply shut the door and pretended the problem didn’t exist. Until.

With visitors coming for the holidays, we needed that bedroom. We tore out the floor, finding very little foundation and what appeared to be a hole to China. Or, as my husband observed, “This house is hanging from its eaves!” Nothing that truckloads of concrete and a whopping big check couldn’t fix.

Now I’m wondering if our nation isn’t hanging from its eaves. With 2020 vision, we can no longer shut the door against our foundational flaws. The “independence” that we celebrate on July Fourth was utterly dependent on an economy fueled by the slave labor of Africans. The expansion of our nation required displacement and genocide of indigenous people who’d flourished on this continent for thousands of years. Racism was and continues to be built into our foundation like so much rebar.

Throughout my lifetime, our nation has struggled to address its foundational flaws: integration of the military, Brown v. Board of Education, elimination of Jim Crow, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, first Black man to do this, first Native American woman to be that … and yet we are a long way from being able to wipe the dirt off our hands and declare, “Well now, that’s done!”

“Interrupting the forces of racism is ongoing, lifelong work,” writes University of Washington professor Robin DiAngelo, “because the forces conditioning us into racist frameworks are always at play; our learning will never be finished.”*

What with a pandemic, its economic impacts, and massive protests, we’ve hardly had breath or time to observe another significant 2020 event: the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, allowing women to vote––after an epic struggle. A hundred years later, women continue to be in the minority in government, a minority in earning power, and we have yet to elect a woman President.

We have protests and marches because––eventually––they’re effective. Notes historian Jon Meacham: “Progress in America does not usually begin at the top and among the few, but from the bottom among the many. It comes when the whispered hopes of those outside the mainstream rise in volume to reach the ears and hearts and minds of the powerful.”**

Those “whispered hopes” have risen in volume to shouts, screams, and wails of anguish that have echoed through our land for centuries. How much, I wonder, are we willing to invest to fix our foundation? How much of an economic investment? But more significant, how much humility are we willing to invest?


* DiAngelo, Robin, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.”
** Meacham, Jon, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.”

Assets of Age

We’ve experienced

what younger generations

can only read about

The older you get, the more personal your connection with history. Kids read history in books; we of a certain age have lived it.

Last week I heard a college student say that he’s too young to remember 9/11. But that was so recent, I inwardly objected. Even though I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, I remember every moment of Sept. 11, 2001; my husband and I watched, galvanized, as the story unfolded on our television screen.

A while back a younger friend observed with incredulity that her mother could still remember exactly where she was and what she’d been doing the day President Kennedy was assassinated. November 22, 1963. Anyone born in the 1950s or earlier could remember that day with clarity. As a college student, I was on my way to a music theory class when I learned of the shooting. Stunned and confused, we students clustered in the classroom. The professor arrived, canceled class, and invited us to his office, where we huddled around his radio.

Because of radio and TV, and now internet, you don’t have to be at the location for an event to seize your soul and never let go. I remember watching Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, delivered Aug. 28, 1963, on the National Mall.

I’d visited Washington, D.C., the previous summer, and attended an open-air production of a Shakespeare play on the mall. As I watched TV coverage of the massive crowd that had gathered, I felt an odd sense of connection. I’d been there. I could imagine being part of the crowd. Yet I was on the other side of the country, in the family room of my parents’ home, ironing. I’d occasionally look up from the ironing board at a tiny black and white TV screen as speakers spoke, singers sang, and preachers prayed.  And then MLK. I put the iron down. To this day, my heart churns when I see replays of that speech.

Before his assassination, King had expanded his efforts beyond civil rights to the intertwined, deeply rooted issue of poverty. He was organizing and promoting the upcoming Poor People’s March on Washington when he was assassinated. The Poor People’s Campaign persisted, setting up a 3,000-person protest camp on the Washington Mall, staying for six weeks in the spring of 1968. Some of you may remember that. Most Americans now are too young. Reading about it in a history book is not the same.

_poster_werisetogetherWhich is why an event coming up Saturday, June 20, is so vital. More than fifty years later, we have a new version of the Poor People’s Campaign. There won’t be a massive march and encampment on the National Mall, but as these times would have it, a “digital justice gathering” nationwide. It’s a “moral march” on Washington, say organizers, who hope to attract tens of thousands of people online. Details are at june2020.org.

Cynics might say, “Why bother? Nothing has changed.” I’m old enough to argue that plenty has changed––just not enough, especially in the area of wealth distribution. We march because we can; we protest because we must. We’ll continue (a) until we don’t need to any longer, or (b) because we can’t.

I prefer option (a).