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Tag Archives: Humanity

March On

bus

We are on the cusp of the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington. It is the most famous mass gathering to occur in our country. At least 200,000 people showed up to the National Mall on that late August day for a march in pursuit of equality and jobs. The march, twenty years in the making, came to life in 1963 (100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.) People from all over the country heard about the march and found their way there. This was before cheap flights, social media and ubiquitous car ownership. It was also during a time in which travel could be challenging for people of color. They arrived, some traveling through the night or for days, anxious of what lay ahead. No one knew what exactly was in store and no doubt some concern for personal safety existed. Families, communities, church groups; people of all ages and colors took that leap of faith and participated in a peaceful day of inspiration and aspiration.

There were specific goals for the march including; job training, increase in the minimum wage, school desegregation, passage of a civil rights bill, and federal prohibition of discrimination. Many of the goals were realized, but what the march is remembered for is much more ethereal. People who were there, ordinarily perhaps quite eloquent, will grasp for words when trying to convey the feelings they had that day. Many of us listened to the iconic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I Have A Dream speech in school. The goose bumps and throat lumps hints to what being there must have been. To be standing amongst hundreds of thousands of people with a unified purpose is to be in a heightened state of humanness. To overcome the personal and join together for a higher purpose is one of the greatest gifts of life.

Those of us who weren’t there (or weren’t born yet) may never experience anything of that magnitude. But we too can pursue the power of the collective. We can seek to right wrongs by joining strangers to make some noise. The world and humans being what they are means that there will always be something worth fighting for. Those people climbing onto buses in the wee hours of the morning had no idea that they were making history. They simply wanted to join hands and march for the most basic of civil rights.

MS 2003-36  March on Washington Program - front

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Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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The Human Race

I am often brought to my emotional knees by displays of humanity, specifically in the form of unity or support.  I have learned to choose my eye make-up carefully when attending the Heritage of Pride parade every July.  The marching NYPD and FDNY always destroy me as I know my history and recognize the gravity of the solidarity.  This summer I was brought down by the mother riding on the back of her daughter’s motorcycle while holding a sign proclaiming her pride in her daughter.  Humans supporting humans, be it strangers, family or friends, just plucks at my heartstrings.  Yet knowing this somehow did not fully prepare me for the emotional avalanche of watching the NYC Marathon at the finish line.

I think that it is safe to assume that for every runner, there is a story.  No one runs a marathon on a whim.  I certainly expected the city flair which was on display with running; chickens, Elvis, superheros, inflatable sumo wrestler suits, ballerinas, clowns, Blues Brothers and the like.  But the degree to which runners were being bolstered (physically and spiritually) by strangers, friends, and partners was surprising.  I stood next to a man who shouted words of encouragement to every person who ran past him with a name written on their shirt.  He did this for an hour.  “You can do it Amy.”  “You’re almost there big Sal.”  “Dig deep Carl, dig deep.”  I lost count of the couples holding hands as they walked/stumbled and dragged each other to the end.  There were many “teams” running together and more often than not, there was one member being held up while others slowed their pace in order to stay together.  One man collapsed with an injured leg and could no longer walk.  Marathon volunteers picked him up and carried him to the finish line.  I saw a young woman holding a rope tied to an old man.  I saw runner guides leading disabled runners.  I lost count of how many pairs of runners had their arms around one another’s waist.  There was a military “no one gets left behind” determination on their faces.  As the sun set and the crowds of spectators thinned, a race organizer took to the microphone and yelled inspirational messages (in a good way.)  She told the runners that they were just a block away from the moment they’ve been waiting for and one that they’ll never forget.  She did this for hours.  In the dark.

It was a moving and inspirational day for this non-marathoner.  I tried not to focus on the anomaly of the outpouring of support and instead simply revel in it.  Parades, marathons, snowstorms, disaster, they bring out our best.  It’s not that we choose to not be our best everyday, it’s that most of us simply don’t have that kind of stamina.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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Do The Right Thing

For all its diversity and dispersion, there is a collective conscious to New York City.  Most often it’s evident after disaster or crops up cyclically.  There is a collective bonhomie that occurs around Christmas.  (Ironic, for a town considered so Jewish.)  Transit strikes and black-outs bring out a certain camaraderie as well.  But ordinarily, on a day to day basis, the collective consciousness usually simply appears as a collective disapproval of the behavior of others.  Not action, mind you, more of a rolling of the eye form of disapproval.
There are knowing glances that occur on buses and subways at the appearance of a group of waistband challenged youth.  (If teenagers ever discover that their attempts at intimidating us people of a certain age with their boxer shorts are actually met with pity, they will be crushed.)  Looks are traded as the inadequate headphones spill banging, tinny, repetitive thumps into the subway or bus.  (Another heads up for aggressive youth; your choice of music and volume makes us people of a certain age wonder if you have any musical sensibility whatsoever.  We don’t feel “out of touch” or intimidated by your blatant disrespect for social mores.  We just kind of pity you.)
Then there are incidents that not only garner knowing looks and breaking the cone of silence to actually comment on said incident to a stranger, there are incidents that motivate people to speak to the offender!  It is rare.  But when it does happen, my heart soars.  If I had one wish for our culture at large, it would be; SAY SOMETHING!!!!!  Speak up when you see something.  Is there a dangerous wire hanging down?  Tell someone.  Does the elevator not work?  Tell someone.  Does a child appear to be in danger?  For the love of G-d open your “I don’t want to get involved” head hole.
This rant only reinforces how happy I was to see the split second response to a man walking down Madison Avenue (across a very busy intersection) with his dog; off of the leash.  Several of us looked horrified and commented to each other.  But one extremely decent man, caught up with the offender and explained the extreme danger he was inflicting upon the dog in the name of coolness.  The offender took no heed of course, and continued on his path to the stares and horror of everyone he walked past.
Perhaps he’ll be ticketed, or overwhelmed by a roving gang of SPCA members.  Probably nothing will happen to him and his dog will continue to be a victim of a variation of the “friend as parent” syndrome.
I often wonder…if children can be removed for neglect, why can’t animals?  Where is the SPCA in this?

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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