(Also Posted at: http://www.rrc.edu/news-media/news/rrc-student-marching-democracy-spring )
A march is a moving convention, a convening of commonly concerned citizens. We organized organically as we marched 140 miles from Philadelphia to Washington DC as part of the well-organized Democracy Spring. We walked and sang and talked and listened, nobody was distracted and nobody had anything else to do.
While walking through the main streets of Delaware, the hills of northern Maryland, the suburban sprawl of Baltimore, and while marching on the Hill in DC, I found myself davening the first two verses of Psalm 121, a Song of Ascent:
אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל הֶהָרִים מֵאַיִן יָבֹא עֶזְרִי ,עֶזְרִי מֵעִם יְהֹוָק עֹשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ
esah einei el he’harim m’ayin ya’voh ezri, ezri m’et Adonai oseh shamayim v’aretz.
i look to the mountains, from where my help will come, my help comes from God, maker of the cosmos and earth.
Sometimes I sang into the silent void between our first steps and our first morning break, and sometimes I sang from inside a chattering crowd. Sometimes I sang to the consistent beat of a Buddhist priest’s small drum, and sometimes I sang to the wild sounds of a bespectacled man wearing a blue jacket, a blue bandana, and beating a big blue water drum with bells attached.
Here are some thoughts that occurred while singing:
“I look to the mountains:” What mountain?
The mountain is the challenge, the struggle. Every part of it. From making phone calls to walking through the rain to spending a day in jail.
The mountain is Mount Sinai. When God gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, God held the mountain of history over our heads and said accept or die, either you remake the law in the vision of the holy, or you will perish in the desert as slaves chained to Pharaoh’s empire. The mountain of history is once again hanging over our heads, waiting to destroy us if we do not choose to renew our covenant with our most sacred ideals of democracy.
The mountain is the pursuit of holiness and wholeness. Our world is so fractured and isolating. I live my life in schools, libraries, cafes, and thousand year old arguments in dead languages. It was fun to be outside and it felt like camp. I made good friends, ate the same food every day, slept uncomfortably, and had a lot of good exercise.
“From where my help will come:”
My help emerges from our collective pursuit of the holy. Back home, when not on the march, we are flammable twigs. On the march, we are the burning bush, and the burning bush is not consumed by the fire. We all see and live the fires of empire: The chaotic scorching and torching of our planet, the fiery hell that is our public discourse, and the firewall of money in politics, gerrymandering, and voter suppression blocking the people from our government. But the burning bush is not consumed. We shared our wonder, our suffering, our stories, and our dreams. When we walk with each other, we know each other, and we gain strength from each other.
My help came from knowing that each step we took was a rededication to democracy. Walking in the tradition of Granny D, we dedicated ourselves to the truth that democracy is an active verb and not a passive noun. As Franklin said by the Liberty Bell, the republic is ours, if we can keep it. To keep it is an obligation to be performed with joy, a sacrifice to be made at the temple.
My help emanates from the pilgrimage. It does not come from Capitol Hill or from the mountaintop, but from the journey into the mountains. It comes from the question and not the answer, from the climb and not the summit. To climb is to reach up into the cosmos and uncover the layers of mystery, and to be in awe of the overflow of the kindness of strangers. So many welcomed us and fed us and sheltered us, and some gave foot massages. When we walked through downtowns, people came out to talk and be supportive. Some gave us pizza. Some put us up in motels, five to a room. Every day, more people showed up to march with us or signed up to sit in on the Hill with us. When there is a collective mountain as grand as a living democracy, help emerges everywhere along the journey.
“my help comes from God, maker of the cosmos and earth:”
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that the meaning of God is that there is meaning beyond mystery and holiness conquers absurdity.
The absurdity dripped away when I took a week off and went on a meaningful pilgrimage with a few hundred goofballs from the Liberty Bell to the Capitol. I hope you consider joining us for the next march.