May The Earth Not Catch Fire Below Me: A Prayer for Boston

11 Oct

Boston is where my blood is. The blood I left as a child, scraped against sticks, stones, and sidewalks. The blood I left as an adult, pumped by the hearts of family and friends there when I moved to New York less than three months ago. So last night, as the @Occupy_Boston Twitter feed began to report escalating police activity and eventual use of force around the Dewey Square protest, my own heart beat anxiously and out of time.

When I visited the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City last week, I was touched by the alliance of hippies, punks, mothers, children, artists, and more that had assembled to speak out, largely against corporate corruption and a government that they felt no longer represented its constituents. It seemed like a thoughtful and compassionate demonstration of American dissatisfaction.

Then the protest in New York inspired similar action all over the country, and it transformed from an isolated demonstration to something like a movement. Citizens all over the nation from Atlanta to Chicago to Los Angeles standing together to make their voices heard. Still, even though I’d seen one of the sites and made a small donation to its makeshift “kitchen,” I still felt remote from the congregation.

Last night’s action, in a literal sense, hit closer to home. Bostonians amassed in Dewey Square held hands and sang as riot police and emergency vehicles clustered around them. I finally fell asleep around two in the morning in my Harlem apartment, nervous about the potential for violence. When I awoke this morning, I was crushed to learn the situation had turned ugly. Especially disheartening were reports of the police pulling American flags out of the hands of veterans and throwing a 74-year-old man to the ground.

A grassroots movement cannot be treated like a tantrum, ignored until it becomes unbearable and then crushed or shouted down. Though social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are often rightly derided as frivolous time-sinks, they have the very practical social function of making the general public very, very loud. Violence and politically neutral statements from state officials cannot silence the voice of the people. It can only galvanize an indignant public to turn the general thrum of communication into an urgent roar.

Everyone at the protest that I attended just wanted to be heard. They carried signs with their slogans and were willing to explain themselves to strangers in the street. If city governments continue to show their unwillingness to engage in dialogue, I fear for what may happen. Like toddlers who lack the words to express their frustration, long-ignored segments of the population may begin to strike out physically, smashing people and objects in their way in a misguided plea for attention. I pray this does not occur. I hope that our educated, informed, frustrated citizenry maintains its code of nonviolence and that the one percent they’re trying to talk to begin to listen.

“People are tired of being dominated,” a man at the Occupy Wall Street protest told me. And I agree. If there’s any unifying message of the Occupations of American cities, it’s that Americans want to make themselves heard. They will no longer submit to domination, legislative or as in last night’s case, physical.

To those who like to dismiss the protests with their attitude of “America, Love it or Leave It,” I say shame on you. That is not love. Love is not the meek submission to the will of another. Love is the ability to grown and change together. To listen to one another.

America, please listen.

There is a mass of seething anguish within you. In a city like Boston that riots over sporting events, that could turn to recklessness and destruction at a moment’s notice. I hope that legislators and officers of the law remember who puts them in office and pays their salaries before that happens. I hope they hear the desperation in the voices of the voters and taxpayers who feel that their votes and taxes have been given in vain.

Right now I am at an airport, about to get on an airplane for a business trip. That sentence alone means I have more resources at my disposal than most people in the world. But I am far from wealthy, and I stand with those who feel disenfranchised and downtrodden. Money talks, but apparently so far, it doesn’t listen.

I have a palpable worry inside of me that violence could break out any moment amongst people who feel they’ll never be heard and who demand attention. I worry for our nations lives and infrastructure. I fear for our future. I am about to get on an airplane now. I’m hoping that my flight is smooth and safe, but even more than that, I pray that the earth not catch fire below me.

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2 Responses to “May The Earth Not Catch Fire Below Me: A Prayer for Boston”

  1. Jillian October 11, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    You’re such an amazing writer Josh! I haven’t been involved in the Occupy Boston movement but thank you for educating me on the subject.

  2. Kay G. October 25, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Right on, Josh. You said it beautifully. It was a wonderful and thoughtful piece. Hope you write more columns about what’s going on in our country today. Love ya.

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