I am not in favor of kids getting days off from school on commemorative holidays such as Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day. How does a day off honor the memory of these great ancestors? If children were in school, the teachers could take a break from their usual curriculum to help children learn the significance of the days. I understand that this would only add to teachers’ work and they work hard enough already.
Yesterday I took my grandchildren, Charlie 12 and Ana 10 to the only offering the town of Little Falls had to commemorate MLK day. I thought it was to be some kind of presentation like someone reading King’s “I have a dream” speech, but it was a simple protest with less than 10 people holding signs at Little Falls’ Banker’s Square. I knew a couple of them; we’d shared protest space back when we were protesting the war in Iraq. I stopped by one woman who was holding a sign that read “Black Lives Matter” and asked her to explain to my grandchildren the significance of the sign. She did so beautifully. She told us that on the other corner there was a van that held signs that we could hold up. I asked the kids if they wanted to do this. Ana gave an enthusiastic “yes”; Charlie said “No, not really,” in his cool preteen way. I could see he really wanted to be someplace else. We crossed the street and got ourselves a couple of signs and stood next to the two people habituating that corner. Ana’s sign said, “We Stand with Fergusan” and I explained to her that that is where her mom would be marching this day at 3 pm. I also told her about the art work she had done that would be used for signage in the march. She was very proud.
My sign read, “I can’t Breathe”. Charlie stood next to me and I told him the story behind this sign, that these were the words a young man had been trying to speak to the police before his death. “Charlie said, “I don’t think our police would do that.” I said, “I don’t think they would, either.” I stood there with a sick feeling inside me, not unlike the one I’d had back when we protested the Iraq war. Protesters always run the risk that observers will think they are attacking those who serve to protect our country and our cities. It hurts to be judged but one can’t control what other people think. The best we can do is to be as articulate as possible, and perhaps, to be deliberate in supporting those who serve.
A woman sitting in a chair said to Charlie, “This takes more courage than the courage it takes for soldiers to go to war.” I thought that this must be the most ignorant statement I have ever heard. I said, weakly, “I have never been called to defend my country, but I can’t imagine it takes less courage than this.”
A man was there with a mega-camera and he began snapping pictures. Charlie escaped to hide in the alcove at the entrance to Melgrams Jewelers. The man kept snapping pics of Ana and I. He asked us our names. Ana told her name and I told him mine. Then I said, “Ana’s mom is marching in Fergusan today.” The man lit up. He pulled a notebook out of his pocket. He asked us to spell our names and made some notes, I assume, about Ana’s mom. Ana was beaming with pride. Charlie, I suspect was sinking between the cracks in the sidewalk.
At some point Ana said that she was getting cold. I decided we’d had enough. The scarcity of protesters made the task more difficult. I was displeased about some of the signs that mixed issues and dripped with negativity. We crossed the street to the car. I saw a man I’d marched with before. Slightly embarrassed for abandoning ship, I said, “One is cold, the other one has some place else to go.” I didn’t say, “Any place but here.”
In the car, Charlie ranted a bit about how stupid this was. “Nothing will change anyway,” he said, “so it is all a waste of time.” I told him about some things that have changed because of protest. “Then people should do something else,” he said. I told him that I use my blog to speak and his mother uses her art. He was willing to accept these forms but not the one we’d just witnessed. I wished we had not come, that his first experience could have been a larger, well planned with well educated protesters. I said to him, “This is about the freedom of speech, Charlie.” Without hesitation he said, “I get it.” I know he did not say that to shut me up. He really did get it.
As we drove by the art center, Ana said, “We should have gone there to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. We could have made things.” Genius, I thought. Then she said, “Let’s do it next year. I want to be in charge.”