Happily holding our banner in a downpour under the shelter of my Mary Poppins-with-bling umbrella, I begin my next career as an organizer of protests, pickets, demonstrations, and other such human installations for a cause.
At 2 PM the sun was out. By 3 a chill wind blew up the hill from the ferry. At 3:45 I took my plastic lawn chair, umbrella and sign over to the sidewalk in front of Wells Fargo Bank, satisfied to be a lone crazy making a sit (I don’t stand for long these days) for Standing Rock. A few minutes later Aubrie and her dog arrived, she with signs, dog with great enthusiasm. Just as the skies opened about 2 dozen people showed up with hand written signs and great determination. We chanted “Water is Life. Mni Wiconi.” and waved our colorful umbrellas at commuters likely confused by what they saw.
It was hard to really communicate a complex message for the drivers whizzing up the hill in the rain. We stood in solidarity with the #waterprotectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota. We stood on behalf of the 70 million people whose drinking water would be at risk if the Dakota Access LLC completes the pipeline slated to bore under the Missouri River. We stood on behalf of future generations, knowing that if the pipeline is completed and 500,000 gallons a day of crude old runs through it to ultimately be burned in China it’s a climate disaster. We stood because Wells Fargo Bank is funding DAPL to tune of half a billion dollars, but if lots of us move our money and tell them why the funding sources might blink – and blinking is a step towards divesting. We stood because we live on the Salish Sea where coal and oil comes through on trucks and trains to be shipped and we’re inspired by the Sioux to stand up as #waterprotectors. It’s not easy to get all this on a sign.
Here’s what we did accomplish:
1. For every uncomfortable good-hearted public moral act any of us do, hundreds of others see us and tilt their ears to catch the whisper of their own “still small voice” within. I know this because I stood in the rain today a very happy woman because I’m finally on the streets after years of cowardice and half measures and excuses and other duties calling me. I’ve had a date with standing shoulder to shoulder with others, a nobody with an umbrella who has heeded a call. Marches and protests seemed so futile to me. How many millions took to the streets to stop the Iraq war, only to be called a focus group by Bush? How many skirmishes have we won through drawing public attention to a wrong, only to have a hundred fiercer wrongs grow out of the soil of our victory? I missed a major point of such actions: we do them because we can no longer sit on the sidelines of history as spectators. We do them not because we will win the outer bettle but because we’ve won the battle within of simply showing up for what’s right, come what may.
I have found that as I stand with Standing Rock however I can, a spirit is standing behind me that feeds a hunger for moral actions. It sounds so … well… moralizing but actually it’s literal soul food. The soul seems to thrive as we listen and respond.
A couple of guys swung by in their trucks to find out what was going on. They had heard something about DAPL. I just told them the story of what was happening and why I was there and I think they both went home and got on the internet in response not to me but to the chance to be on the right side of history. Whatever I caught all those years on the sidelines, with forays into the Battle of Seattle in 99 and other actions, I think I passed it on today.
2. What’s the difference between a demonstration and an art installation? Waaaay better signage. I’ve done improv theater and free form dance and I long now for the courage to bring that into demonstrations. I would love to have dozens of signs like this banner that Joe Menth of Fine Balance Imagining donated to us. I’d love to have Burma shave messaging. i now understand why people spend time building mock coffins and making paper mache puppets of public officials. If you want to demonstrate something, you have to ACTUALLY demonstrate it so the message is vivid.
3. I think part of why I’ve sat on the political sidelines is that I am still a good girl waiting for the “walk” signal. I learned today that it is really okay to take a plastic lawn chair, a decorated umbrella, a sign that carries a bit of your heart and just sit in a public thoroughfare.
Two summers ago another woman my age and I called a circle together to talk about how we might use our battle scarred older bodies as weapons of protest. Where and how might we strip down and sit down and speak up and get arrested for a cause. Naked grannies. We howled imagining where those young policemen would grab us if we went limp in peaceful non-cooperation. Women have done this throughout history. In Africa, in a Muslim community, some women threatened to take their clothes off if some condition weren’t changed. This is an utter no no in their culture and change came before the men would be subjected to their mothers’ nakedness.
Somewhere between today’s tame hour in the rain and nude non-violence with dozens of over-70 sisters a next step awaits. Stay tuned.