Can you see me in this picture? Actually, I think I’m so far back that I haven’t turned the corner yet at the top of the hill. If you want to see pictures of me from the Moral Monday march against voter suppression on July 13, all you need to do is go to my Facebook page. There are pictures of me with clergy friends, with Lutheran friends, with Holy Trinity peeps… in every possible configuration and pose. It was quite a media event for users of smartphones. And yet, out of all the pictures from the day, my favorite is this one. Somewhere, I’m in that crowd of 6,000 people, although you can’t really pick me out. And that’s why I like it so much.
There was a moment before I headed out for the march yesterday when I was thinking, I don’t know if I’m up to this. I’m the kind of person who won’t go into a shopping area between Thanksgiving and Christmas because I hate crowds so much. And then there’s the heat. It drains me so that after ten minutes I feel like I can hardly move. Not my idea of a good time. But there was something in me that had to be there on Monday. If I had stayed home, nobody would have missed me. The march would have gone on without a hitch. But I would have missed being there. I would have missed the opportunity to walk with others who feel as passionately about justice as I do.
Not too long ago I went to a rally for 8,500 teaching assistants who will be losing their jobs because of budget cuts for public education in North Carolina. When I arrived at the rally I was asked, “Are you a teaching assistant?”
“No,” I said.
“Are you a teacher?”
“Do you have children in school?”
“No. I’m just here because I care.”
My words were met with a moment of silence followed by a quizzical look . . . and then a word of thanks.
This little exchange happened several times while I was at the rally and took a spot standing with a group of teaching assistants who were holding signs as the backdrop for a press conference. I didn’t have to be one of them to stand with them. I was glad to be just another face in the crowd.
We are all inspired by individuals who take a bold stand for what they believe in. People like Bree Newsome, who climbed a flagpole to remove the Confederate flag from the capital grounds in South Carolina, or Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani woman who is the youngest ever Nobel Prize winner for her courageous work promoting education for women. We hear their stories, and they we want to cheer or cry, or both.
I’ve come to see crowds the same way. Crowds uniting for a vision inspire me. Actually being part of a crowd is beyond inspiring. It is transcendent. When I’m part of a crowd and hear the rumbling of voices ready for change, and I see the determination in the eyes of others moving forward alongside me, I feel myself disappear in the flow of feet and faces. I’m thankful for the opportunity to get lost in a crowd of people like that. Even on a hellishly hot afternoon in North Carolina.