Vacation as Defiance

by

09/01/2005

E 14th St & Broadway, New York, NY 10003

Neighborhood: Greenwich Village

I had that week off from work. I hadn’t yet taken a summer vacation and figured that, like thousands of other New Yorkers, I would get the hell out of the city during that time. I’d walk in the August 29th protest march, make my sentiments known, and then hit the road.

But as things turned out, I couldn’t leave. The city may have been filled with some obnoxious conventioneers and even more obnoxious restrictions, but I barely saw or sensed them; instead, my path was filled with political activities, and—to my initial surprise—I could not turn away. I knew that all the events would go ahead smoothly without me, but it turned out that I, on a personal, emotional level, needed to take part in them.

One glorious afternoon found me in the packed auditorium of Cooper Union, listening to the Constitution being read out loud. Who knew that hundreds of people would want to spend perfect-weather summer hours that way? But there we were, absorbing everything that document guarantees us, applauding it over and over, filled with a kind of amazed awe. When the reading was done, the Constitution got a standing ovation.

I cobbled together a schedule for the week that made room for marches and the beach, political readings and seminars and a visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. On the last day of the convention, I came from an afternoon at Coney Island to the final-night protest gathering in Union Square. Amid the crowds, a small group of attendees sat silently, legs in lotus position, eyes closed. This appealed to my ocean-calmed mindset, so I joined them, taking a spot between a guy with an “I Heart NY—and Baghdad” button and a woman with a “Suck My Dick Cheney” bumper sticker on her knapsack. As cameras flashed wildly (what was so interesting to photograph about us, I’m still not sure—are our faces now pasted onto naked bodies on the internet?), and as George W. Bush spoke a half-mile and a world away, we sat together in tranquil remove.

I did leave town for Labor Day weekend, and it was a lovely time—bike paths, wildflowers, Emily Dickinson’s house. My determined smile in the photos from the trip says, “See, damn it, I took a vacation!” But I’ll never regret staying here for the convention; or getting up at 6 AM on a Saturday in early October to go door-to-door in a downtrodden pocket of Philadelphia (in the rain), registering voters; or any other involvement I had during the election season. It felt like an honor to be so engaged, and to witness the intelligence, decency, humor, and dedication that I saw all around as Americans came together, refusing to be complacent or dismissed. A popular political-rally chant: “Tell me what democracy looks like!” “This is what democracy looks like!” As long as we keep showing up–reading, listening, voting; speaking out and diving in, no matter how disaffected or discourgaged we may sometimes become–our right to challenge, and change, the powers that be cannot be taken away.

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