Has it really been a year? I can’t believe how much time has gone by and how little of it I have spent here. I guess that is because instead of sitting around at home on my couch, I have been out in the world trying to make a difference. From the street corner where I keep my solidarity vigil, to the Occupy camp that popped up in my community, and to various other community events I have been there.
This year has been quite the journey for me. Like the rest of the nation, I was horrified by the events of January 8, 2011 in Tucson. But what I was most horrified about was the angry and hate filled comments some people said when talking about the victims. Many people believed the victims got what they deserved and they were very quick to voice that opinion. Now I am glad to live in a country where we have the right to say what we want, but I think people were crossing the line. So the following Saturday, I set up myself, my sign, and my constant playing of Micheal Franti and Spearhead’s Sound of Sunshine, and I stood on my street corner. My sign is simple, a plea for us to stop hating each other and instead respect each other. We should be free to say what we want, but we should also respect what comes out of our mouths and who might be listening to those words. For this year, I fought a battle against words. Words that hurt us and drive us apart.
Did I succeed? I started thinking what this was all for from the beginning. I can’t ever really say why I decided a street corner and a sign would be my form of expression, but it did. I know that I have always felt that words were all I had to offer this world, and that was where I would start my fight. Through the weeks, I met some wonderful people in my community who had to stop and thank me for what I was doing. They were amazed at my courage and wished me the best. They were the strength and courage I depended on as weeks turned into months and a year has now passed.
A few months ago, I took a trip to Chicago and was shocked by how many street corners were filled there. Not by people like me, but by people desperate for food and money. I walked pass these people along with everyone else and that was when it dawned on me. These people were invisible. In a large city like Chicago, they did not exist. It didn’t matter the sign or the pitiful look on their faces. People passed them and pretended not to see them. I began to wonder if people were ignoring me. For the car horns had started to die down and the people approaching me had dried up. I started to fear that I was invisible and that no one remembered or cared anymore about why I was out there. I started to think maybe I should just give up and pack it in and call it a day.
The Occupy movement came to my community about three months ago. Unlike Occupy movements around the country, this one is small, has never had a single member arrested, and actually has legal permits to camp in one of our parks. Every Saturday, about 15 of them march 2 blocks to one of our Congressional member’s office and stay put all day with signs. They don’t cause trouble and have become more of a side-show. However, I started to wonder if people would think my sign and I were part of that movement. I wondered if they would honk because of that, or flip me off because of that. I even considered joining them on one of their marches because they look so small and sad. Almost like how I look in my solitary vigil. I have yet to join them, but I am actually proud that they have set up camp here.
So what have I learned? What has been accomplished? Will I continue? Well, I have learned a lot about myself. I cannot believe that I have done this. I sometimes think it must have been someone else on that street corner with that sign because that is not the person I am. I am not the person to take charge and stand for what I believe. I just like to hide away. So where did I come from? Where did I get the strength to turn it all around? I still don’t know the answer. All I know is that I was there and it was me standing on a corner, holding a sign, and listening to Sound of Sunshine. I did it. Somewhere deep inside of me, there was courage and strength and I found it. I feel like I am a new person and this experience and forced me to change.
What have I accomplished? Well as far as changing the world, or the world around me, I would have to say very little. Our world is still polluted with the words of hate directed at those who don’t deserve such hate. We have not learned to respect each other and we may never learn. But on a personal note, I did accomplish something for me. I did what I have never done before, standing on the corner, and I did it to honor people I have never met and some I will never meet. For it was for the victims of the Tucson shooting that made me want to stand on that corner. Their lives cut short or forever changed resonated deeply within me and changed me in a deeply profound way. Nothing has ever called me to action like that before. I did this for them and for myself. I needed to join with them and show the world that they were not the deserving victims of violence but rather innocent victims. And I needed to heal. The thought of them never strayed far from my mind this whole year and yet every time I stood on that corner I felt more at peace. I felt a wave of dread and sadness wash over me every time I stood out there. But I especially did this for the youngest victim of that shooting, Christina Green. Since learning about and all her accomplishments in her short life, I began to see how we were connected. She wanted a life where she could change the world and even at the age of 9 she was already doing more than I had ever done. I cried over the fact that the world is now deprived of the great and wonderful things she could have accomplished. But I am still here. And as I long as I am still here I would like to now carry on where this girl left off. I will put myself out into the world, instead of watching it go by, and I will try to change things they way this child envisioned they should be changed. Who knows what she could have accomplished. But now it just seems wrong to not do anything and be a spectator. That is no way to honor her memory.
So will I continue? Sadly, I don’t think my corner will have me next week. The first year since the shooting has now passed and it is time to pack it in. The corner was my refuge from the world that was so mean and cruel to the victims of a terrible shooting, but it cannot always be my refuge. I feel that after today, I must find a new way to get the words of respect and tolerance out to my community and to the rest of this world. My hope for today is that in going forward from the one year anniversary we all make sure to stop and reflect what we say before we say it. Make sure our words are respectful of each other and not filled with hate against one another. We are such a great people and it seems sad that these tragedies will continue; but as long as we continue to hurt each other with words, then hurting each other with violence only seems like a natural escalation.
So I am tired now. My sign is worn out. And I can sing every song from memory on Sound of Sunshine. A year has passed and what have we learned?