I don’t march.
I hate crowds. I hate heat. I hate chanting things. I hate carrying signs. I’m not all that fond of people, in general. And it all feels so pointless to me. I’m not sure, in my lifetime anyway, what in the world has ever been changed by a march.
The only way marches have any sort of impact is if they are led by charismatic leaders who give important speeches, with memorable words and powerful ideas at those marches. Or if there is some specific legislation that is being asked for, that gets voted on, passed and signed.
Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of people showing a bunch of other people how they feel about something.
Isn’t that what we do on Facebook every single day, anyway?
The only time I was asked point-blank to attend a march was about 22 years ago. My father organized a Nashville based contingent to go to Washington D.C and participate in the Promise Keepers march.
I love my father and I was very close to saying yes to him…ONLY because it was him asking me. But then, once he explained to me that they were driving up in a van and sleeping in sleeping bags in a church, I was pretty much out.
I did enough of that when I was a kid to spread the experiences around to several other people. So it was going to be a hard pass from me.
But beyond that surface stuff, I just kept asking myself why people were doing this. Why do you need to march on Washington D.C to keep your promises to your wife? It really bothered me.
So, I asked my dad, “Dad, does it matter to you if I march as long as I keep my promises?”
He shook his head and laughed, “No, son. It doesn’t matter to me.”
So, I stayed home and kept my promises, while the other 22 guys sweated it out in a van and slept on the floor of a church…then marched around in circles declaring their intentions to keep some promises or whatever.
I spoke to my father last night and asked him how many of those guys are still married.
As it turns out, about half of them are divorced, now.
The march couldn’t make it last. Because marches don’t do that. They make you feel like you’re changing the world, in that moment. But what’s actually happening is you’re getting some sort of adrenaline rush or endorphin high from being around the crowd of people chanting and singing and doing whatever.
It’s the same thing that happens at a stadium concert or what happened at Woodstock or what happens in a mega-church worship session.
Crowds moving toward a common goal release all these hormones in people and make them feel a certain kind of euphoria. And if the context is hoping you change something, then you’ll feel like you’re changing something. But you aren’t. You’re just feeling really good.
Real change is hard and it’s a process that must be worked in private moments, when no one else is looking. Not in public moments when nothing is really on the line.
I’m old enough now to have seen this cycle of whatever you want to call it, happen several times in America: something bad happens to a black person – someone gets it on camera or tape – it illicits outrage – people take to the streets – then someone takes it too far – more people die and more property is damaged – a bunch of politicians jump on the bandwagon and come up with a catch phrase or hashtag or red ribbon or whatever – then come the benefit concerts and telethons where everyone gets to virtue signal so much you can light Vegas with it – then someone writes a song (yuk) – then it gets a moment of silence on the Oscars – then the next crisis that must be attended to right now shows up on the 24-hour news cycle. By the time Chris Rock is making jokes about it on an HBO special, we’re done for a few years.
Does anything really ever change? Not really. And if it does, it’s probably not because of anything that happens in any part of the cycle above.
Real change happens when one person decides to break out of their comfort zone and go on an uncomfortable journey. When they face things they never wanted to face and ask questions they never wanted to ask and make decisions that are hard to make…only then does the earth move beneath our feet.
I never went to a Promise Keepers meeting or march or rally or whatever. But I’ve been married almost 29 years. And some days it sucks. And a lot of days it’s just a day. And some days it’s awesome. But everyday it’s a choice. Do I pack up the Mustang and check out? Or do I pull myself together, hug my kids, take the dog for a walk, punch the heavy bag a little, and walk back in that house and face whatever we’re going through together – together?
The answer to that question is where change happens. It’s where promises are kept. It’s where hours turn into days and days turn into months and months turn into years and years turn into a life and life turns into a legacy.
Our problems with race in this country have never been (and never will be) solved with marches and protests and riots. They will only be solved by people doing the hard work of the day-in-and-day-out. They will be solved by tiny, difficult choices that are almost too small to see in the moment but huge in the scheme of things.
Sting wrote, “men go crazy in congregations but they only get better one by one …”
I think that’s just about right.
Yesterday, I was supposed to not post on Facebook to stand in solidarity against racism. So I didn’t. But then I kept seeing these profile pictures of just black and I realized I didn’t do something right. By the time my wife and I talked about it and figured out we hadn’t changed our profile to black, it was over. Then I saw where some people were posting that Black Lives Matter. Then others say ALL lives matter. Then blue lives matter.
It’s literally the worst game of political “who’s on first?” we’ve ever played in this country. And honestly, I can’t keep up with all the virtue signaling I’m supposed to be doing, how I’m supposed to do it, and who I’m supposed to aim it toward.
We’ve had about enough symbolism in this country. It’s time to do the hard work. Or 20 years from now, we’ll be back in this same cycle, doing all of this nonsense again.
And a lot of people who had every intention of keeping their promises will be divorced.
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