“When people change direction, / it is a rare one who does not spend /
the first half of his journey / looking back over his shoulder.”
from “Sweet Thursday”
The past two weeks of turmoil are taking a toll. Outrage, fear, and hope, followed by more deaths from blatant bullets and the silent stalker, COVID-19—the need for change is clear, but which way to go and how to get there is not. Is there hope for anything new coming from this very warranted upwelling of outrage over racial inequality triggered by George Floyd’s death, or are we just making tiger butter?
Amidst the terrors, there have been some points of light for me, shining the way. Two were from the news on public television and radio; another came first-hand, ironically enough, on the lawn of Lindsay’s City Hall.
The news items were from authority figures in Minnesota and Michigan. Major General Jon Jensen of the Minnesota National Guard was asked about the right approach to controlling riots at these protests. He responded with a conversation he’d had with one of his NCOs. The man had spent 17 hours one day guarding the capitol building. “What did you learn?” Maj.Gen. Jensen asked. The NCO said “You know, all you have to do is talk to them. They want to be heard. So I gave them the opportunity to tell me their story.” He did not need his weapons. The other news item was a sheriff in Genessee County, Michigan who approached people marching in Flint. In a moment of inspiration, he took off his helmet and laid it on the ground. His troops laid down their billet clubs, holstered their guns, snapped shut. He asked them what they wanted. “Walk with us,” was their reply. So they did, the sheriff and his troops walking arm in arm with protesters, leaving their protection behind in the grass.
In the interview afterward, he said “Our city is already under enough oppression,” with high unemployment and bad water topped by the virus. “I’ve been here 27 years. These are my people. I’ve served them all my life.”
My own experience is this. Last Thursday I got a call warning me there was a protest planned for the afternoon at Lindsay’s City Hall. It was a fearful call, but I took it as a leading instead, something I should join. It was 106 by the time proposed for the event, and I was mentally backing out. But a little after 5 p.m. I drove by and saw a small handful of young people kneeling in a line holding signs. My car went around the block and parked.
As I took my place on the left edge of the line, the young man I knelt next to thanked me for joining them. I thanked him for giving me something to join, adding that I’ve been wanting to do something, but just didn’t know what to do. “There’s always something you can do,” he said as he stood to give his knees a break.
He was a young man, maybe 18, the son or grandson of these people who come here to make a mean living picking our crops, working in our fields, harvesting our food, and are discriminated against because of their willingness to do that. They are also people who have come to make home here in this valley, to see what democracy holds. They are people, period. They are us.
So when Chief of Police Chris Hughes came out on the lawn to ask if we had any questions for him, the words “Walk with us, Chris!” came flying out of my mouth, even though we weren’t walking. He smiled, surprised, then went back to the business at hand: checking in with his people. Councilwoman Laura Cortes also joined us; former LUSD school board member Mercy Herrera was already there, holding her sign. Most of us were respectfully wearing masks, while little children played with their strollers in the shade.
The event had been canceled earlier in the day because news of a potential shooting had frightened the mother who organized it. But she came anyway with her three kids and joined those of us who ignored or were ignorant of the threat.
Was that the answer? Or was it just the beginning of a journey toward change, an infinitesimal turning toward another way of being Americans? Was George Floyd’s death a tipping point? I certainly hope so. There’s always something you can do. Walk with us.
Trudy Wischemann is an advocate for the common good. You can write to her c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
– This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.