On Walking and Protest

I went back to New York City for a weekend recently, timed to coincide with a best friend’s visit from London. With temperatures over ninety degrees I spent much of the weekend searching with friends for someplace to stay cool.

Except on Saturday, when we marched.

I have always loved walking around New York City. Last February I walked from midtown to Battery Park while one of my friends drove from Phoenix to Tucson with me on speakerphone in her car.

On June 30, my friend, her husband, and I met up with our former roommate for the Families Belong Together march.

“We’re close to the statue of the guy in a chair,” she texted me from Foley Square. We found her group, and when the time came to march we inched slowly down the path and into the bright sunlight.

My friend and her husband split off after an hour or so to make it to another commitment, and I had to stop and think. It had taken an hour to go less than half a mile, it was hot, and I was lightheaded from taking Excedrin for a headache.

I texted another friend who was perhaps half an hour ahead of us. He reported back that by the time we got to the Brooklyn Bridge, we would move faster and enjoy a breeze. I kept marching.

“Whose streets?” someone would shout on the bullhorn.

“OUR STREETS!”

By the time we marched, I had walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at least three times, perhaps more. I knew the long lead up on each side before we reached the water and caught that breeze. I knew the points where the path widened out so people could stop and take photos. I knew the turnoff to stairs that would take us down out of the crowd and set us on the way to one of my favorite pizza places.

There’s a privilege to protesting. I can afford to spend part of a Saturday shuffling through the streets. Other people needed to be at work that day. I was dealing with that headache, but other people physically could not have been standing and walking for hours in 90+ degree heat. And I, as a small white woman, am far less likely to be considered a danger or a threat when I take to the streets than almost anyone else.

Whose streets?

I don’t live in NYC anymore. I’ve never lived in Manhattan. For all my talk of owning a piece of the city through walking it, those blocks surely belong to someone else now, and did even when I lived there and certainly before I lived there.

Whose streets?

Not mine. Ours.

I get frustrated when politicians and others act like they don’t understand how society works. We all put a little in so that everyone benefits. We support each other, even if we can support ourselves, because there but for the grace of God go we – and because it’s the right thing to do.

I came late to activism. There are many protests I’ve missed, causes I supported in my heart but not with my wallet, my words, my walking. I don’t think I’m the only one who waited till the Women’s March to lift a sign and raise my voice. It’s easier to shout when you’re the one who’s threatened, but slowly I’m learning to speak out beyond my own interests. Slowly.

As we entered the pizzeria, the host said, “Thank you for protesting.”

The streets are ours when we walk them for others.

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