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By Peter Hiller
The unconscionable death of George Floyd on May 25 was my most recent tipping point, and yet, unfortunately, not the only new push to action.
I grew up in a very democratic household, with a mother who volunteered consistently for equal rights, fair housing and equal pay – including getting arrested in her mid 70s while publicly demonstrating for service worker living wages. My father was supportive but not so engaged, choosing to follow my mother’s suggestions when it came to voting.
I grew up stuffing envelopes for “get out the vote” and embracing those same causes over the years. The grape and lettuce boycotts found me fully on board, including being shooed away from the front doors at Sears when gathering signatures to support those efforts.
Ours was a culturally engaged Jewish home, yet not deeply religious. Being Jewish led to a fist fight while in grade school, and being called the “K” word. Then, due to my full mouth, being called “n…er lips.” All of that said, in many ways, I fall into the category of the white privileged.
So, what to do? A few days after George Floyd’s death, I started kneeling at the closest busy intersection to my home. More than once a week, I kneel for five minutes at each corner (in honor of the four sacred directions and in tribute to our country’s indigenous peoples) with a sign that says BLM. It is not that I don’t think all lives matter, because I do, but Black Americans have needlessly suffered and been discriminated against in so many ways for all too many years and that needs to stop.
"It is our differences that should bind us – don’t we already know ourselves? "
A few weeks after I started, I added VOTE to the sign because that seemed like a positive action point, and the obvious means for encouraging everyone of voting age to express their choice of leadership, a right and privilege that we all have within our grasp.
After three months, as I reflect, I am pleased and encouraged that the responses to my kneeling on the corners have been overwhelmingly positive. Of course, the majority of people do not respond, which is understandable; they are driving. However, more than 400 people have either honked, waved, given a thumbs up or power fist, blown kisses or yelled “thank you.”
Several people have stopped to talk, taken my picture, offered water or in the case of one homeless gentleman – offered money. This is opposed to the half-dozen clearly disparaging remarks or gestures. I am pleased to see that the positive responses have come from people of all colors. Curiously, it feels like everyone who has responded has done so in support of America.
This time has also turned to honor the late John Lewis in the spirit of his encouraging “good trouble.” I feel more comfortable, yet somewhat vulnerable, out on my own rather than in large demonstrations which are full of so many unknown and unpredictable components these days.
My neighborhood is not very well integrated and has been spared the ugly parts of the recent demonstrations seen in other parts of our country, yet I deeply feel every neighborhood has a part to play in terms of resolving our differences and that it is in the national interest to live comfortably together, no matter one’s race, religion or nationality.
Embracing differences is one of the joys of living a full life. While growing up, I was always intrigued when I would see a family in Amish clothing or women dressed in saris. It is our differences that should bind us – don’t we already know ourselves? Consequently, isn’t learning about others how we enrich and expand our lives? Given a choice, wouldn’t just talking to oneself every day be pretty boring?
I intend to continue kneeling in support of BLM at least through the November election and have volunteered to work at the polls to try and help ensure that the voting process flourishes. My hope is that everyone, in each neighborhood, will take some kind of action to eliminate all aspects of racial discrimination, and to support equal rights for all.
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