As the past week wore on, the violent confrontations between police and protesters lessened. Starting midweek the crowds at the daily protests remained peaceful, and I looked ahead to the weekend and considered taking the kids to a peaceful march ourselves. I didn’t make this decision lightly, keeping their safety in mind first. But I also realized that we couldn’t live so close to a huge event and not take part. Mark and I decided on a plan to see the action while staying far enough to keep ourselves safe. And off we went.
We set off on foot around 2PM, walking one mile and arriving at the Dirksen Senate Office building right next to the Capitol building. We hung back enough to give ourselves space from others, which remained our theme for the day. We stayed on edges, walking on the sidewalk instead of in the street. We wanted to give ourselves physical space because of covid, but I also always wanted a quick exit in case we needed to leave right away.
After some remarks and chants, the march started. The crowd streamed down Capitol Hill, heading in the direction of the White House. I can’t even begin to describe the power of seeing so many people, all carrying signs, chanting slogans, and demanding change. Media describes the crowd sizes as “over 10,000”, but it was clearly more people than that.
The chants. Say her name: Breonna Taylor. Whose streets: our streets. This is what democracy looks like. No justice: no peace.
One of the more poignant moments for me was watching the crowd stream past the now-shuttered Newseum. The building facade includes the text of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and I felt so much pride to witness thousands of Americans exercising that very right:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We asked the kids if they wanted to continue on, and they did. We ended up walking all the way to the White House. We stayed to the south, where the Washington Monument is. We did not go to the north side, where Lafayette Park and the newly-renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza sit. I later read that the largest protest of the day assembled there.
We saw some police presence, but very little. They mostly hung back and watched the crowds, and protesters mostly left them alone. Only the assembly of officers outside the FBI headquarters and again at the US Customs and Border Protection headquarters looked vaguely menacing all kitted up in their riot gear. But again, they and the protesters did not engage each other.
We eventually turned back and headed home, surprised by how long we stayed. I was pleased to see the kids interested in pushing on.
Now comes the challenge. After taking part in such a historic event–what next? Exercising our right to peaceable assembly is an important first step, and I’m pleased that the kids saw the power of that firsthand. But what change we enable will make the difference in actually seeing equality for all Americans. I’m still figuring out what that will look like for our family.