I saw an angry looking short guy in an NRA hat today as I was waiting for a train to take from Penn Station in New York City to Union Station in Washington, DC. I couldn't tell if he shot me a nasty look because he knew I was looking at his hat or because he was short and was used to being defensive about himself or if his train was late and he was in a bad mood. But whatever the reason, the hat sealed the deal.
My train ride was very pleasant. The last time I was on Amtrak, some drunk guy decided I would be the guy to save him from the police for being a stowaway (I wasn't) and he lunged toward me as the police attempted to track him down and flicked me in the face. It was the first time, and I hope the last, that I'll be flicked, a painless but oddly infuriating experience. I stood up when I got flicked and said, "What did you do?" But the guy was gone to another car and then grabbed by the cops, who cuffed him and led him off the train and onto the platform.
I calmed down quickly, found myself laughing about it, but still felt the flick. But no one heard a click. Like the click of a gun, that I imagined could have gone off--somehow. From the aggressor, who it turned out didn't have one; from the cops who were able to handle the situation without violence; nor, from myself, who would never own one.
The sun was shining in DC when I alighted from the train, hailed a cab, and headed into Virginia, where I am staying with some of our high school students as we prepare to lobby on Capitol Hill tomorrow for the social justice agenda of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center. As we drove past the Pentagon, I thought of the shootings earlier in the week, a disturbed man with a gun, now dead himself, who felt his rage against the government would be answered through the barrel of a gun.
The Pentagon, attacked on 9-11 for its symbolism of American Imperialism by one set of paranoids, now attacked by our own domestic paranoids, with or without permits, but with a gun.
I stood in the Hudson News back at Penn Station at the beginning of the trip and read an article in a magazine about the rise of militia groups and their determination to put a halt to the Obama Agenda, which now represents everything wrong with America for the angry and the armed. The sleepy station, the hungry and the homeless, the smells of coffee and sweet rolls filling the air. These paradoxes have filled trains stations for decades in our country. And some of the times we've lived through have been even worse. But this is the first time in my lifetime that the anger and the violence are so palpable, so strong, so seemingly on the verge of explosion.
I am deeply troubled by the level of anger and violence.
And so what do we do? Me? Tomorrow I'll put on a suit and lead high school students to the offices of Senators and Representatives where they'll engage in their civic duty to advocate on their own behalf, to argue for climate change legislation, sexuality education, immigration reform, and a comprehensive plan for peace in the Middle East. They will have studied the issues all weekend long; written and practiced some pretty persuasive speeches; even eaten in the House cafeteria, rubbing elbows with a whole class of civil servants who believe in the peaceful conveying of ideas and issues into law.
We'll walk past metal detectors to get in and out of the Capitol tomorrow and I'll say a special prayer for Capitol Police, who these days are risking their lives even more so, in order that each of us can exercise the privilege of having our voices heard above the alarming increase in explosions that are too numerous in our land.