My wife’s a pacifist and I’m a pacifist. Her activism doesn’t pay much, so she’s funded her concern for the general welfare by caring for the specifically sick as a nurse. She’s used a lot of politicians to advance equal rights for women, civil rights, health care reform, environmental awareness and peace. And, yes, she uses politicians to help solve social problems. Whether they’re as charismatic as Clinton or as baffling as Wilmington’s own Brian Berger, politicians come and go, but our practical problems in living remain.
It seemed like a good idea to use Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend to celebrate activism. There was no gun show at the armory, so we took a road trip north. We set out on back roads through rural NC and Virginia, and got lost a few times on our way to our first stop at Appomattox; it was a long, hard road to Appomattox in 1865. When we arrived, the sun was finally setting on the Museum of the Confederacy down the road from the courthouse where Grant accepted Lee’s surrender. Feel free to supply your own symbolism there.
We encamped near Manassas and arrived at Bull Run in the morning. Ft. Sumpter may have started the shooting war, but Bull Run ended our innocence. A hundred thousand Blues and Grays gathered on hills south of Washington, each side believing one punch in the nose would end it. War is always the end-result of a long series of miscalculations.
We forged ahead and ate dinner in the Nixon booth at Martin’s Pub in Washington. Nixon, JFK, and many other congressmen ate and drank at Martin’s regularly, got to know each other and sometimes collaborated to solve problems. That’s not happening there now. Congress is in session in DC less often to allow congressmen to return to their “constituency” donors mostly—and preventing political adversaries from breaking bread together. Shotgun Joe Biden does have a Martin’s booth and probably a lukewarm sixer of Rolling Rock under the bar.
Monday morning we marched on the Capitol for our celebration. Inaugural committee volunteers greeted well over a million of us like the rockstars we are. (That’s nearly a 100 times Wilmington’s MLK Day parade. And not one Washington, DC news director got himself arrested trying to drive through in the crowd.) Politicians made speeches, the president renewed an oath similar to the oath of soldiers and citizens, and Beyonce lip-synced, but the real party wasn’t on the hill. The soul of the celebration was on the mall; “we the people”celebrating each other.
The rest of the world backslapped us, too. Rest of the world? Sure! Our hotel restaurant manager was Nepalese. At Martin’s we sat next to a table of Saudis, and our waiter was Greek. French and Spanish and numerous Mother Africa tongues blended with street slang, American and the king’s English on the mall. Two women behind me alternated between impeccable English and a Slavic tongue I couldn’t identify.
Check the stock market’s rise? That’s world investors rewarding us for our good sense.
That 2009 Nobel Peace Prize? The world gave it to us for choosing a slightly less nationalistic and militaristic path in 2008, for at least acknowledging what MLK said in 1967: “If we are to have peace on earth…we must develop a world perspective.”
While Joe Biden danced in the streets, we maneuvered past Lincoln to the Martin Luther King Memorial and celebrated the ongoing nonviolent transformation of a world of slavery to one of justice. I took my wife’s picture as she stood with MLK, under his quote, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
That evening we danced with Democrats at the North Carolina inaugural ball. It was encouraging to hear physicians, nurses, accountants, salesman and tradesmen discuss the challenges of convincing their down-home friends that voting Democrat doesn’t mean you dance with the devil. A soft-spoken doctor from Franklin, NC, even taught us the down-home toast. The toast convinced me that my wife should have her own booth at Martin’s. She spent her activist life standing with MLK, carving mountains of despair into stones of hope, and kept faith with the down-home toast by cultivating a “land where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great.”