Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Becoming Better People: One Vigil at a Time

The family who vigils together stays together, right?  We Whomptons feel that a bit.  Samantha and I organize a monthly Black Lives Matter vigil and many times the full family has joined us on Clayton Road to stand in solidarity and bring awareness to justice reform.  My youngest made her first Black Lives Matter sign when she was 6 years old and she’s been proudly showing it since. 

I want our daughters to grow up ready, able, and willing to speak out on behalf of others; a first step in that process is to routinely stand quietly with and on behalf of others.  We’re training, practicing, and reminding ourselves to be better people.

Participating in a vigil is a simple act; people hold signs that affirm the worth and dignity of every person.  We wave at the people as they drive by, try to make eye contact, recognize the humanity in others, and share a positive message.  We vigil in Ladue, which is a predominantly wealthy and white community, and the community support (as measured by waves, thumbs-up, and honks) has increased steadily in the past two years.  I won’t lie and say that every response is positive – one individual in particular is incredibly negative and he regularly stops his car to yell statements like “thug!” or “[fill in the blank individual] deserved to die!” – but on the whole it has seemed that minds were changing.  Or so it seemed to me, at least.

And then November 8th happened.  Depending on who you ask, you might find out that November 8th was the day that Americans elected a misogynistic, xenophobic, racist bigot OR the day Americans chose a business-focused Washington-outsider who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is OR, you know, both.  I anticipated our vigil on November 13th to be hateful, as in “filled with hate,” because many Ladue residents voted for Trump and either expressly or tacitly gave his racist comments a pass.  The community response was different.  The overwhelming positive support – the honks and waves – from the drivers that day was a welcome surprise and helped my heart heal a bit. 

A different organizing group established a vigil in our hometown of Creve Coeur and we joined them on the 19th.  The other vigil attendees were excited to see us, and beyond thrilled to see Raina and Lola.  Kids holding signs that say “Hate never wins; love does” is always a powerful sight.  Unfortunately, the first driver response I heard was “n-----!” which is not a word I ever heard shouted in Ladue.  There were plenty of middle fingers shown our way.  Little Lola was confused because she’d not seen that message before and she thought it was a different way of waving.  We corrected her quickly when she started waving her middle finger back to a driver.  Some folks shouted a variety of pro-Trump statements at us, although none of our signs made political mention at all, and others had some aggressive thumbs-down responses.  On the flip side, the intersection was LOUD as people honked their support for justice reform, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and showing love not hate.  

We’re adding the Creve Coeur vigil to our calendar and making it a priority to be there every month.  Change has to start somewhere, and amplifying voices in our own community is a good place to start.