"Memories are great," I heard Stephen Wright say on TV. "They're the only things you have to look back on."
Memories are great, but the great ones pass so quickly you could get whiplash looking back on them. Jan. 20 was the best day I've had all year, but by the 22nd it felt like one of those dreams you wake from and think, "Oh shit. Real life."
It started out at 5 a.m. in a cold rain with a dying car that barely made it to the union hall on Oak Ridge Road. It was worth it to see the buses. They weren't the broken-down, beaten-up, retired school buses with stuck windows and no heat that I expected to ride to a protest in; they were fancy buses with cushy seats, and there were lots of people getting on them. People with kids, friends, in clusters, with organizations or all alone. The event meant enough to them to get up in the middle of a freezing-cold night and ride for hours to protest the swearing-in of a president they felt didn't merit the title.
A year ago the inauguration of G.W. Bush as president of the United States would have seemed like a joke. It still seems like that to many of us, significantly to Floridians who feel betrayed by faulty voting equipment, dubious counts and the Supreme Court. Now we're on a bus, going to register our wired, righteous indignation. Behind me sit a group of union guys who are very nice but who I wouldn't want mad at me. One of them, I'm told, beat the crap out of a guy's car with a baseball bat because that scab had crossed a picked line. The bat is not on the bus, which is a good thing, because we're all getting really inspired watching "Braveheart" on the ride up. Some of us wish we'd brought blue face paint.
It's about 35 degrees in front of the Tallahassee Civic Center, gray and threatening rain, and genius that I am, I'm wrapped in a blanket, failing to have (A) checked The Weather Channel, and (B) brought a parka. But the focus of irritation changes from the weather when a plane flies overhead trailing a sign that reads, "Florida Loves Jeb!" This where the real feeling of a rally begins, as we start to march to the capital and the chants of "No more Jeb!" begin to rise, along with signs that say things like "Hail to the thief." I'm marching between a Tallahassee lawyer and a woman who says she came all the way from Ohio to stick up for the voters of Florida. I find out that she marched on Selma in 1965. The cold and the distance don't seem like much now -- at least we don't have fire hoses in our face.
Another thing we don't have is Jesse Jackson, which is too bad. What's kept him away is the exposure of his love child, but it seems to me that an illegitimate child is a fine thing compared to an illegitimate election. In Jesse's absence there are other speakers from NOW, the AFL-CIO and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, all of whom make it easier to stand in the bleak cold, chanting, "Never again!" and, the most fun of all "Cheater! Cheater!" when Katherine Harris' name comes up. After about an hour the sun finally comes out and it feels like a sign, that if we stay vigilant, loud and together, the future might be bright, if chilly, after all.
But Resident Bush isn't in office for two days before the dark ages roll over us like tar. Right off he cuts off U.S. aid to international family-planning groups that offer abortion services. An open letter to Bush signed by 20 organizations including the Global Health Council and the ACLU decries the policy as misleading -- these groups provide abortion services with private funding. The policy forces them to choose between providing abortions and receiving desperately needed federal aid. "Either choice," the letter says, "hurts the poorest women in the world."
After our feeling of victory, it feels like the battle has started all over again. It was like waking from a dream to find yourself in a nightmare.
There are two things you can do with a nightmare: Roll over and let it get to you, or stand up and shake it off. I'm afraid activism these days is seen, as "South Park's" Eric Cartmann says, as "tree-hugging hippie crap," but it feels a lot better to stand up for yourself than to roll over. So even though that feeling of well-being has dissipated like a dream, I'm glad I did it.
While I was in that demonstration crowd, one woman noted that Bush would have to answer to a higher authority than us, the puny U.S. voters. God, she was implying, wouldn't like this election. Why? Because, she said, "Thou shalt not steal."
She sounds pretty faith-based. Think we can get her some funding?