Ways of Seeing: July 4 response gave hope

I remember how, for so many years, I was desperate to “do something” on the 4th of July, mainly to escape from New York City, where the ever-putrescent smell of summer in the city rises from baking black asphalt, the heat and smell shimmering together in waves, the consecutive nights of firecrackers sounding like gunshots or maybe they were gunshots, certainly there were some on many of the other 364 nights of the year … but yes, desperate for an escape to someone’s country house or lake house or beach house, sometimes forthcoming, sometimes not. I wanted outdoors, grilled food, barbecue, fireworks, sparklers, ice-cream, to be “at the party,” to be having a “good time.”
Now it’s different. Now I live among mountains and trees and air and I don’t need to escape from gunshot/firecrackers and summer’s olfactory assault on urban spaces.
Now I’ve lost my faith in human nature and I’m just trying to find some others, to run toward others who, like me, don’t think there’s anything to celebrate, certainly not at this moment in time. Others who are sickened at heart by the reports from the camps, reports from the southern border, reports of ICE agents apprehending and jailing migrant workers not far from where we are, but who are far from their homes, which are far from the places they went to shop for bare necessities, to wire money to loved ones in those faraway homes.
Sickened at heart by the daily injustice, the ongoing racial apartheid of existence in this country. Over and over, sickened at heart by people, people WhiteLikeMe calling the police on people not WhiteLikeThem.
So we got ready to march in a parade, not with BuntingDrumsAndAmericanFlags but with space blankets and signs about not caging people, and it happened because a person said, and then two people said and then three people and then some more, converging SocialMediaWise to say that the knowledge of this was unbearable. To say that they couldn’t and wouldn’t be the “good Germans,” the complicit one-third of society that watches while a murderous one-third kills the victimized and marginalized remaining one-third.
Some folks jumped into the conversation and said “I’m in” and others arranged a meeting space and 20 of us showed up and then the following week more people showed up and by July 4th, 50 people marched in a parade wearing silver space blanket capes and carrying signs asking for liberation, asking others to think about what it might be like to be in a cage because you’re running to escape the mouth of a shark, to have your loved ones in a cage because they were fleeing certain disaster, to have your loved ones in a cage because you begged them to flee with you or they were small and you made the choice for them and grabbed them up to be carried or run alongside you.
We were going to be “in their faces” we were going to “ruin the 4th of July” we were forthright, we were proud, we would stand up to hecklers by trying to engage them. What if the organizers kicked us out of the parade? We’d march anyway. We’d show them all. We’d ask them how they’d like it if … if …  if …
Funny. It didn’t go like that at all. We led with the banner of the organization Showing Up For Racial Justice. We wore our silver space blankets in the 90 degree heat, thinking of the shivering people in the cages blasted with a punitive level of air conditioning as they lie on floors or cots, if they’re lucky. We were 3 years old and we were 77 years old, we carried flags from Guatemala and El Salvador and Honduras, we carried signs about kids in cages and justice.
And the people, the people wearing American flags, carrying American flags, waving American flags with American flags painted on their faces, the people read our signs and clapped for us. They didn’t just nod as we walked by. They rose in waves and in droves and clapped and cheered when they saw the words “Showing Up For Racial Justice” and “Asylum Seekers are Not Criminals” and “Everyone Deserves to Be Safe” and “No Human Is Illegal.” And for a moment … a flicker of faith was restored, faith in the Anne Frank-ish ideal, my 13-year-old’s soul that somewhere still pulses with the thought that maybe it doesn’t have to be like this, maybe we can “… still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
And for a moment … just for a tiny moment in my still-sentimental though utterly betrayed heart … this too was America.
Julie Conason is a “new Vermonter,” having moved to Salisbury in 2017 from East Harlem with her husband. Having been a public school teacher, coach, principal, and school leadership development specialist in New York City and nationally, she now works as an education consultant with a particular focus on racial and social justice, school climate and culture, and responsive pedagogy. 

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