Winter hit my block this past week.
Leaves carpet the sidewalks, and the fur coat of my dog, Ross, now feels as thick as a shag rug. I’ll soon have to pull out my igloo of a coat when I walk Ross and Strider, our family’s other dog, through our neighborhood. When I do, I know what I’ll see — purple signs that are a rallying cry of our time.
Love and Tolerance Practiced Here.
I’ve seen these yard signs for months, and I’ve often wondered if these five words are simply a pipe dream in fighting the hate and rage around us. Take this past month.
Every time I turned to the TV, I’d catch political ads stoking fear, elected leaders spouting dog-whistle racism and news about yet another mass shooting in places seen as sacred, safe or as familiar as a favorite flannel shirt.
Yet, like with our subtle switch from fall to winter, I sense a change. I felt it this past week.
We voted, and we all know what happened. More women got elected to Congress, the Democrats now control the House, and here in North Carolina, the GOP no longer has a super majority in our General Assembly.
Yeah, our own Governor Roy now has a little more power.
So, Tuesday – our Election Day – was a big day.
I got to our precinct right after daybreak, 30 minutes after it opened in a nearby church. I met a line full of neighbors, 40 people deep. And there was Chuck. He lives around the corner from me.
He talked about how much his house needed painting. Real exciting stuff, you know. Then, he mentioned his recent doctor’s visit. He heard from a PA he saw how more people are coming into the office to deal with stress they say is caused by the country’s current mood.
That didn’t really surprise me. In some story I read recently, I had heard how surveys show we’ve become a nation on edge. But honestly, I don’t need a national survey. I simply need to listen to my son.
He’s a college sophomore, a level-headed sax player, tailback and Eagle Scout who grew up in a cocoon of safety. But just last month, he told his mom, my wife Katherine, how he is worried about the world.
So, as a parent, what do you say?
Agree and feed his worry?
Or disagree and say, “Oh, you know things will get better. It’ll be OK.”?
It’s hard to choose, especially when we hear right after Election Day that our president has fired the attorney general and replaced him with a shill who sees the Bob Mueller investigation as a sham.
So, what do you do? Where I live, you protest.
On Thursday, Kath and I headed downtown to our city’s governmental plaza, to a spot a block or so from where four students from N.C. A&T stood up for civil rights by sitting down at a downtown lunch counter and asked to be served.
That was nearly 60 years ago in Greensboro, North Carolina. Not much has changed in my adopted hometown.
During an interview years ago, local Quakers told me they see Greensboro as the “alternative South.” I’ve always felt that was an apt description. Thumb through any chapter of Greensboro’s local history, and you’ll find something about how local folks have stood up for the voiceless and fought against what they saw as wrong.
Now, I admit, I’ve often thought we in Greensboro will start an argument with a wall. We do love a good protest. Must be something in the water — or maybe it’s just us. But when we do, we protest together.
So, on our trip downtown, Kath and I picked up our neighbor, Susy, and we joined a slew of folks from many sides of town. We came together to rally against what we saw happening in the country’s political circus that passes for governing and responsibility.
And there, amid the signs and chants, I found Locke.
He’s our city’s version of Matlock, the character made famous by Andy Griffith. Locke is a longtime criminal attorney, known to wear bow ties and talk in an upstate South Carolina drawl I do so recognize from my home state.
On many a July Fourth, I’ve seen Locke don an Uncle Sam costume and march in our city’s July Fourth parade. But the last time I stood side by side with Locke in our governmental plaza was when I carried a notepad, and I peppered him with questions about one of his murder cases.
This time, though, I carried a sign; Locke asked the questions.
“Jeri,” he drawled. “Did you come as a reporter or a protester?”
I laughed. I came as a protester, I told him, first time at a rally without a notepad. And there I stood with Kath and our neighbor, Susy.
I stood on the steps of a governmental plaza where I had been so many times before as a reporter and columnist. Raindrops began to freckle the concrete, and I listened to a handful of speakers behind a mic or a bullhorn tell us why it’s important we came.
We all came for so many reasons. I came for my son, my daughter and my wife. I came for me. I also came for the undergraduate I know as Sammy.
Sammy’s Jewish, and I saw her again two weeks ago during a vigil at High Point University where I now work. She told a crowd of us that she’s scared to be Jewish, she’s scared to say a Jewish prayer in public, and she’s scared to go to a local synagogue.
It’s because of the madness behind this NYT headline out of Pittsburgh: 11 killed dead in synagogue massacre, suspect charged with 29 counts.
On Thursday at the governmental plaza, I thought of Sammy and the other people in my life. I listened. Chanted, too. I heard about people’s motivation, and I remembered this quote I found recently from writer and poet Alice Walker.
“Look closely at the present you are constructing: it should look like the future you are dreaming.”
She speaks my mind. So does a guy named Augustine. I heard about him during Thursday’s rally from a local minister I know as Pastor Badass.
“Saint Augustine once said, ‘Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage,’” she told the few hundred of us on the steps. “’Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.’”
Do the math, and you realize Saint Augustine said that at least 16 centuries ago.
Still true today.
So, when I hear about my son’s concerns – or even stand in the spitting rain and holler near a guy named Locke about the need for Congressional responsibility — I wrestle with this whole concept of hope when much in our government feels hopeless.
And I worry that love and tolerance will be pummeled Joe Frazier style by the rage, racism and xenophobia I see around us.
Then, I remember what a pharmacy doctoral student told me two weeks ago.
His name is Bisharat. He’s a Muslim American from Pakistan, and he grew up in the Textile South.
Bisharat came of age in a post-9/11 world in High Point, N.C., and because of the misperceptions he heard around him about Islam, he had grown wary of others and other religions.
But that all changed when he began eating dinner every month with students at High Point University who practice almost every religion on the faith rainbow.
They shared food in the basement of HPU’s Hayworth Chapel and talked about their faith and dreams. The dinners lasted at least two hours. Khan kept coming back, month after month after month.
Bisharat has come every month for three years. I asked him about all that, why he constantly came back and what he learned. He had a quick answer.
“I realized we’re not different people,” he told me. “We’re the same inside.”
Seasons change. And now, with two sisters by our side named Anger and Courage, here’s to our country changing, too.