On the last Sunday of January 2017, 10 days into the Trump/Pence/Bannon administration, 19 adults sat in chairs formed into a circle in the sanctuary of the First Unitarian Church of Lynchburg. The purpose was a meet and greet for the Seven Hills Progressive Society — a bold name for a group existing in a town known by outsiders to be synonymous with religious fundamentalism and staunch political conservatism.
Contrary to what the more fearful among the right-leaning townsfolk might imagine, this was not a coterie of sinister-minded villains who wring their hands while plotting the moral decay of humanity. Quite to the contrary, those in attendance gathered in the name of love (but not without a due air of frustration). Our new president had just signed an executive order that would effectively put a 90-day ban on immigrants from seven specific countries from walking freely on U.S. soil.
Without the lubricant of juice, crackers or coffee, the group came to a rousing agreement that on the following Sunday (yesterday), they would meet again at the church. Not to sit inside and pontificate, however, but to carry signs and walk several blocks up 5th Street to stand at the traffic circle and chant slogans of compassion and anti-divisiveness.
With permit in hand, these folks did just that, but plans did not carry on exactly as the organizers expected. The last time this group demonstrated (only a few months prior), the participants could have been counted on one hand with a finger or two to spare — which led to the organizers voicing their feeling encouraged by 19 people attending the aforementioned meeting.
An aside: My belief is that it is important for non-traditional journalism to come take part in such an event — a voice without the façade of objective reporting. This piece is only objective in the sense that I was there at the meeting the week before and I was there at the roundabout protest. Our standard local news providers (one such organization I have been employed by in the past) oftentimes lean into what is normally considered “objective” to the point of presenting its readers with utter banality. That is not what you will get here. You will read the truth as I saw it, and you can trust that my words will be honest to my experience: first-hand, yes, but admittedly limited.
What I saw was a multi-colored, multi-generational assemblage of benevolence. Spirits were high and amicable as friends who did not anticipate see one another embraced. At one point, a black woman stopped her small pickup truck before entering the traffic circle. She hopped out — her smile and sunglasses both gleaming — to record a video of the demonstrators who all cheered in response. A white woman about her same age strode over to give her a hug. The first lady waved and hopped back into her vehicle. The buildup of cars behind her uttered not a single beep until they drove through the circle and tapped their horns in support.
Despite the underlying message of unity, not all that passed through seemed to get the point. A few shook their heads (no big deal), and for a while the highest form of aggression we saw was a few oversized pickups revving their engines and peeling out, emitting a 4x4 flatulence that likely cost them a few bucks in petroleum.
Some just sped up to to get by as quickly as possible. One such speeder roared through in a large blue pickup (a peculiar trend?) with a Liberty University bumper sticker while holding a 3x5-foot “TRUMP” flag outside of the rear cab window. I don’t know if it was the metal spikes on the wheels or the undoubtedly vitriolic words of the driver and passenger that could not be heard over the cacophony of engine noise and chanting, but a few of us got the sense that these folks had trouble on their minds.
I can only imagine the train of thought careening inside the baseball-capped skulls of these gentlemen when they either heard about the demonstration or unwittingly stumbled into it. Either way, the rally inspired them enough to go grab their flag and create a display of their own.
Our voices inspired them enough to come through the circle a few times, actually, and inspired them enough on their last drive-by to make their ultimate statement. Through the rolled-down passenger window, a man yelled the name of our newly-elected alleged groper-in-chief and gave us all the middle finger.
That’s the part that I saw. What I didn’t see is that this individual decided to chuck liquid from the vehicle that wound up splashing my friend’s adult child and also drenching the coat of a friend of that same friend. I caught up with my friend to ask what had happened, and she was doing her best to contain her rage while conversing with others about going through their pictures to see if anyone happened to snag the license plate number.
She thought the flung fluid was a beverage, and I hoped she was right. When I got back to the Unitarian Universalist church, I spoke with her friend. He said that given the smell, he’s pretty sure the offending substance was “dip juice,” the putrid expulsion from an individual who chooses (freedom!) to spend his money voluntarily poisoning himself with a known carcinogenic substance.
I feel bad for my friend’s friend and my friend’s child, but really — I feel most terribly for whoever that man was who thought it to be a good idea to toss tobacco spit onto other human beings for the grand offense of believing that seemingly hateful, racist political maneuverings are not something to roll over and simply take as, “Well, I guess this is just life now. … God bless America!”
You have to be dealing with some seriously heinous inner dialogue to behave in such a vile manner. I am not sure if throwing excrement would have been any worse. In any case, the message was clear:
You think differently than me. Therefore, I hate you.
I imagine he and the driver hooted and hollered on their way to whatever Super Bowl gathering they were inevitably amped for, where they in all likelihood would sit down with people they love to watch television and to consume copious amounts of processed garbage and poisonous swill (more likely soda than beer, given the LU sticker), thereby further compromising their already worrisome mental faculties.
(If you are reading this, sir, fellow human, flesh of my own flesh, know that your hatred will only serve to poison you. It will only serve to keep you walled away from living a life of far greater pleasures than Doritos, Coke and Coors Light. The choice is yours.)
But perhaps not. Perhaps his humanity kicked in a few turns down the road and he realized how rotten that was. Isn’t it pretty to think so?
Once all those that remained were back to the sidewalk in front of the UU church, spirits were by no means dampened by the unconscious behavior of a couple unhappy campers. The organizers discussed how in the coming weeks there would be more demonstrations to pour into with this positive energy.
There was talk of how this day proved that on the grassroots, regular Jane/Joe individual level … people do care. People will stand up for what they know is good and just and loving, and that all those in favor of hateful rhetoric and action (like our friend in the blue pickup truck) will voluntarily reveal how poorly their inner narratives allow them to treat people.
And for what ends? For safety at the price of division, marginalization and death? Profit for some at the cost of environmental destruction for all? To harken back to a point in this nation’s timeline of oppression that was somehow greater than now?
With a lot of effort and a little bit of cosmic luck, perhaps consciousness will prevail, bending the moral arc closer to justice so that such hatred and fear are relegated to near obsolescence.
Keep it real. Keep it loving. Keep your dip juice to yourself.*
* - Or not even to yourself. It stands to reason that anyone willing to be so unkind to themselves is willing to exact at least that much harm on someone else.