The aches in my bones from yesterday's rally in Madison, Wisconsin, were welcomed aches. My cold, wet feet, the kink in my neck and the pain across my shoulders reminded me of those courageous people in Egypt's Tahrir Square; or those fighting apartheid in South Africa; or the students in China's Tiananmen Square; or the freedom fighters in Montgomery Alabama; or the countless people in countless labor battles throughout the years, all who put not just their bodies to the test but their lives on the line. Those pains in my body paled in insignificance compared to their sacrifices, and yet were my connection to these people and to all the people throughout human history who have fought for a little more freedom.
Of course during the rally, I forgot my body. It was easy to do this. The infectious excitement of the crowd, the camaraderie displayed by people, many of which only knew each other by the cause that brought them together; the rousing speech by AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, and of course, the highlight of the evening, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, made it easy to put the needs of the body on hold. At one point I remarked to the people around me, "Just think, we just sang ‘We shall overcome' with Jesse Jackson-the man who sang with and was an important aid of Martin Luther King!" They all smiled and nodded enthusiastically in agreement.
The music at the rally was so wonderful-and powerful-that I longed to get the soundtrack, with the noise of the crowd left in, of course. I only hope someone recorded the entire rally.
Although the many chants and cries of the crowd varied, I was able to detect three distinct, but overlapping themes. One, we are here in peace, non-violently, and vow to remain that way. Two, we are committed to social justice which endeavors to help those whose lives are made unnecessarily hard by the choices of a few in power. And three, this rally, this demonstration, all the people who have come to Madison for and in the manner of the other two themes, is a living example of how democracy really works.
The banners and signs were also quite varied, but the one that struck me the most was the one I noticed when I began to leave shortly after Jesse Jackson's speech. With the Capitol building, that imposing edifice, lit up in the background against the black sky, a sign in the foreground caught my eye. It read:
Screw Us and We Multiply!
When I learned that on Monday there was about 10000 people here, and on Tuesday that number swelled to 13 thousand; on Wednesday the estimate was 20 thousand, and Thursday 30 thousand; finally on Friday, the day Jesse Jackson called what was happening here, "a Martin Luther King moment" and a "Gandhi moment," the estimate was 50 thousand, I smiled to myself and whispered aloud to no one in particular, "Yes, we shall overcome!"
Photo: Teresa Albano