MLK vigil - DC, 4.4.2012

last night, i attended a vigil at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, marking the 44th year since his assassination on April 4, 1968.

it was a beautiful evening for it: warm with a lovely sunset, soft breezes tossing around the last of the cherry blossom petals.

there was some old school baptist singing from a men's choir. A Phi A was out in force. Dick Gregory walked right by me on his way to the VIP area {he looks great!}. the grandchildren of Gandhiji and Cesar Chavez spoke. everyone focused on renewing calls for peace, holistic nonviolence, and justice. 

i expected folks of all colors and variations to be there, and i wasn't disappointed.  plenty of black folks, too--from bourgie buppies to loc'd elders. i was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few children.  a troop of girl scouts handed out electric candles.

all in all, it was a lovely event.

the only thing missing was heart.

everything moved along in a nice, neatly packaged way.  the choir sang with little input from the crowd.  one speaker got the crowd's energy going, but the momentum didn't seem to last long.

there were jackbooted cops everywhere.  the woman reverend that prayed as the wreath was laid didn't have a mic, so those who were not close to the foot of the statue couldn't hear her.  there was no real closure at the conclusion of the vigil, but there was a lovely tone of softness and congeniality.

i'm not saying i expected full on ch'uch to break out--after all, it was a vigil.  but even at crunchier events, i've gotten used to spontaneous chanting, singing...a more participatory vibe. 

so what's my point?

we all know MLK's fire has been dampened by those who would prefer to forget that he called attention to the systems and powers that kept folks oppressed in this country; that he did not speak of simply turning the other cheek and meekly inheriting the world.

we also know that the civil rights movement began as a people's movement.  national attention came slowly, and even at its height, the majority of america was interested in maintaining the status quo and/or plain ol' survival.

i got here too late to know the 60s and 70s firsthand; i was born nearly a decade after MLK's passing.  i barely remember the 80s.

but i can remember a pre-9/11 world.

it seems that over-organization and police presence override the spirit of just about any gathering outside un-policed cultural events or the occasional drum circle.  these days, anything official feels sanitized and thinned out in the interest of keeping us--or someone--"safe".

even the electric candles--although i understand the implications of using traditional ones in such a maintained space--seemed like cheating. 

i don't have any hopes that that will end soon.  

still, i'll have to start keeping an eye and ear out for "people's gatherings" outside the confines of bureaucratic propriety.

whether solemn or celebratory, that's where the true spirit lies. 

update: text article from the washington post here

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