“What do two activists do in Florida?” a friend asked me in a recent email.
That’s what I began to wonder almost as soon as we finished unpacking, grocery shopping, and settling in for our three months in Florida. Within two days of arriving, we had found a welcoming UCC community and the best ice cream in New Smyrna Beach. The weather was great, our apartment was comfortable, and the people living in the upstairs apartment were quiet and friendly. We transformed one antique sewing machine and one old writing desk into ergonomically adequate computer desks for each of us. The beaches were beautiful, there were Christmas parades, boat parades, and a bountiful farmers’ market two blocks away every Saturday. And, of course, we had each other.
What more could we want?
What we needed were the activists. It seemed at a time such as this, more important than ever. We knew from emails and FaceBook that church people, young people, Raging Grannies, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, eco activists, and Black Lives Matter organizers back home were reaching across social divisions and making their voices heard. Where were the bridge-builders and human rights activists here? They had to be somewhere.
The first tip we got was from the local UCC pastor. She told us about a unity action that was happening the second week in December. That Saturday we walked over to the park that is used frequently for the Black community’s celebrations, festivals, and unity gatherings. We made hand-painted signs for the march the next day, a large gathering that included AfricanAmericans of all ages and a handful of white folks. We were happy to be to be so warmly welcomed, and included in the wonderfully upbeat plan for the next days’ march.
We gathered at one end of the North Causeway the next day, prayed before we began our march, and then we began walking. I felt some fear, but it was overshadowed by my excitement that we were with other people bearing witness to the belief that that love could prevail over hate. We held our handmade signs and marched to the top of the bridge above the large InterCoastal Waterway, where we stood for about an hour, seen and heard by everyone driving across the bridge. On Sundays it is a heavily travelled bridge linking the small city of NSB to the beachside community and the most populated restaurants, bars and stores.
The march was heart-opening experience. There were so many positive responses from the people driving over the bridge that I felt a hopefulness that I hadn’t been able to feel since the election. I was excited about what would come with this new wave of resistance and community-building.
A few weeks passed, filled with Christmas and family visits, and then we began to search for others we could march with on Jan.21. We decided to join a women’s support march planned in Orlando. But Orlando is a long drive, and we wished we could find people who were marching here. A week ago, we were invited to small social gathering of church people, and discovered that we weren’t the only ones. It looked like maybe two carloads were shaping up to go to the Orlando march..But when Dorothy opened her email yesterday, she discovered that indeed a women’s sister march was being organized for right here, three blocks away from us!
We went off on our late afternoon walk and then, like an old-fashioned movie, a woman about our age stepped out of her front door as we walked by and called out “do you know about the Women’s’ March?” and waved a flyer at us. As we stopped to talk to her about it, another woman drove by, saw the flyer we were looking at, stopped her car in the middle of the street and asked for a flyer since she too had been looking for signs of such an event. And within the next three minutes, a neighbor hurried up to us from down the street because she was also excited about the march.
This is not a unique neighborhood, not a hotbed of feminists or old hippies. In a couple of hours, the online announcement of the march had already gotten 380 commitments to march here on Saturday!! And that didn’t include us, or the woman in the car, or the neighbor walking up the street.
So I am looking forward to this Saturday, reassured that there are women – and men and kids – everywhere who are coming alive. We’re all looking to find neighbors and friends and strangers who are seeking unity, and kindness. We don’t have to be alone in the darkness.