Out of the Mountain of Despair, A Stone of Hope

Today was a new day.

While I would not be able to dedicate the memorial in a collective action, the way Martin Luther King, Jr. might have envisioned, his work on nonviolence and peace has been so seminal to my thinking that I felt that I could honor him as an individual – quietly, away from the crowds, and with my dogs. It really was more my style – big crowds are hard on the dogs. So, I’m a day late…

We drive down to the national mall in the pickup with the dogs, and I pull out my bike and we head over to the memorial – not a direct route, but Dr. King’s route also had a legacy. A speech in front of the Lincoln memorial.

Several monuments dedicated to those who have died in war. And finally, a monument to nonviolence.

As I climb the steps to the Lincoln memorial, the park officer informs me that dogs are not allowed in the chamber. So, we stop… An opportunity for a citation and nonviolent protest, but I lack the courage.

When I get to the King memorial, some tears well up for what I had missed the day before. Another officer approaches me and once again I am told that dogs are not allowed. A woman steps forward and offers to watch the dogs while I visit the memorial. I explain to her that dogs were a fundamental part of my nonviolent protest and healing work. It would defeat the purpose of me being here. She moves along, and the yard in front of the monument is empty. I think, and think, and think, and realize that I would never respect myself if I didn’t do this. What was the point of Dr. King’s work, if not civil disobedience, teaching us how to stand up to laws that hurt? With his spirit, I find the courage, and walk in with the dogs

Scared…

I move in front of the stone, trembling. I am moving so quickly I can hardly concentrate. A park ranger taps me on the shoulder and I turn, expecting confrontation and ejection. The camera stops. She tells me to move faster, that the dogs were technically not allowed. I quickly kneel to try to get my pictures with dogs.

And then, hurry along.

I finish the memorial, definitely not yet used to the camera, but in the end, at peace with myself and the situation. Later that day, I would traverse the entire mall on a bike with the dogs, so tired by the time I got to the Capitol, that I dismount to climb the hill to the Supreme Court. It would be a capstone to the end of the day – a 6 mile day at least. A period on the sentence that had been begun long ago. A moment that I would have shared with my dog Casey if she had still been with me. This sadness aside, I joyfully accept what I was able to accomplish with civil disobedience: A dog off-leash in front of the Supreme Court, coming to me… No, I did not free a nation, or people. I was not that big. But I made some animals and people happy. I treated them with dignity, and respected their need for mobility and some freedom. In my little way, I mattered to those little ones…

Dr. King contributed more than collective action. My work has been about the power of the little person – the one refused much, but not all access, to power, the one who has difficulty integrating into any social context or group, and therefore is not privileged to collective action. It has been about the creative power and ability of an individual in society. And, it has been about people and animals that are compelled or who sometimes choose to live under laws that they can have no voice in. And yes, Dr. King’s actions and ideas have impacted me too.

I am nonviolent, and I struggle for peace. As I reflect on the meaning of his work and this day, I realize that we aren’t quite there yet. There is still a lot of work to do in race relations before true integration is achieved. Although, I can live safely as the only person with white skin in a completely segregated southern black neighborhood, and we can have a black (or gray) president of the united states, there are still times when racism rears its ugly head in my life. I think that Dr. King would not want this glossed over just for the sake of unity. The ability to be honest, to be able to say that not all is yet able to be forgiven between all people with differing skin colors, is important to progress in relations. We have come a long way, but there is still injury that must be repaired. There is hard work ahead of us. I understand a little better that I probably wasn’t the only one absent yesterday. Some of us tried. Others succeeded. And yet others were late. Or simply absent.

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