I am not one who marches for a cause. I don’t exactly enjoy situations in which I have to follow someone else’s lead. I am not an activist. In fact, I think some activists can be detrimental to the cause for which they are advocating. At some point, it all becomes white noise, or worse, it becomes flammable to the ears of everyone else. At its best, activism can enact societal change for the better over a long period of time; at its worst, it can become divisive to the point of an irreparable dislocation.
This past June, however, I found myself at a rally on the courthouse lawn in downtown Jackson. This rally was to bring attention to the family separation occurring on the southern border of our country. Before you stop reading, though, I want you to know that I’m not writing this article to tell you what I think or what I think you should think about this situation. I’m writing this article because this is where we all are right now in 2018. We are a country and a city that cares about the things that matter to us. We care about them so much that we write op-ed pieces in the paper. We comment on social media about political topics far more than any other topic. The Jackson Sun knows this. WBBJ knows this. We share articles that buttress our individual political beliefs. In some ways those pieces are reflective of who we are. In other ways, they are extensions of our egos. I’m guilty of that more often than not. Saturday, June 30 was time for me to attend my first rally and physically show up to support a cause that I had virtually been supporting for weeks.
I arrived a little late on my rented Zagster bike. (Side note: the city of Jackson has bicycle rental program at four separate locations. Check it out!) There were around thirty people gathered around the courthouse lawn. There was an individual in the middle of the crowd holding a bullhorn with a microphone attached to it. I recognized a few familiar faces and made my way to a friend of mine who was holding a sign. At that moment, I realized I hadn’t made a sign. I was okay with that; I’m not great at slogans. I listened while a few people spoke. Some people had their remarks prepared ahead of time. Other people who spoke clearly did not. Before the speakers began, however, we were reminded that this was a peaceful rally and if anyone who disagreed with why we were there tried to instigate anything, we were not to respond. I wondered if anyone would actually instigate anything. Was that where we really were at this point?
About ten minutes into the rally, two men rode by on motorcycles and revved their engines loudly so that the speaker’s voice was enveloped by the sound of the mufflers. Some people in the crowd glanced their way, but the speaker continued as if she didn’t hear them at all. A few minutes later the same two men rode by and predictably revved their engines once again. This time, however, they had a one-finger salute for all of us.
As the rally progressed, I began to realize how partisan it seemed to be. I wasn’t necessarily surprised by this, but I was a little disappointed. The reason I attended the rally was less about politics and more about humanity. I was disappointed that political candidates were stumping for votes and announcing the districts in which they were running. On the other hand, everything is politicized now, and family separation is most definitely a political issue. This is where we are. I reconciled all of these things in a matter of minutes as the rally concluded and we all were shoved together for a group picture. Instead of saying “cheese,” we started a chant. I don’t like chanting for anything, so I stood there and mumbled a few words. That picture ended up on the front page of the Jackson Sun’s website: me standing there with my mouth closed, staring.
This rally was the fourth rally held downtown since early spring. These rallies are becoming a fabric of our community. There is a growing voice of support or dissent for leaders in national politics, and it’s filtrating to local politics as well. Each person has the right to peacefully demonstrate their beliefs. Hopefully, those demonstrations do not speak ill of any person or group of people. The way we respond to one another is what will determine the way we all progress as a community with diverse beliefs.
I had a friend ask me recently if I ever thought I would change anyone’s mind by what I post on social media. My answer was no. Her question also made me wonder why I even do it. It didn’t take me long to answer that question: I do it because there are people who don’t have a voice or don’t have enough resources to share their voice.
As I was leaving the rally, I noticed a Hispanic family: a man, a woman, and their daughter. I knew the daughter; she was a student in my class this past school year. No matter what I personally thought about the way the rally was presented, I knew why I was there: I was there to support my beliefs and support people who may feel marginalized. I was there so that people like that eighth-grade girl knew that there were people who cared about what was happening to people like her. At that moment, politics were washed away, and humanity shone through.
Gabe Hart is an English and Language Arts teacher at Northeast Middle School. He was born and raised in Jackson, graduating from Jackson Central-Merry in 1997 and Union University in 2001. Gabe enjoys spending time and traveling with his daughter, Jordan, who is eight years old. His hobbies include reading, writing, and playing sports . . . even though he’s getting too old for the last one. Gabe lives in Midtown Jackson and has a desire to see all of Jackson grow together.
Photography by Heather Lutz.