If I had to use one word to describe our demonstration it would be gentle. I was amazed at the gentleness of it. As a child of the 60s, I think of protests as angry, shouty things, with the f-word being screamed over megaphones. I remember feeling that choking anger inside of myself--why can't people see! What can't the world be better!If you’d like to know more about the plight of the children in northern Uganda, visit Invisible Children or World Vision. Consider buying one of Invisible Children’s bracelets, which are hand-made in Uganda to raise money for children suffering in the northern part of that country. Invisible Children uses the money raised to put children through school and create jobs in an unemployable war area. At the very least, consider signing World Vision’s online declaration "deploring the abuse of children forced by rebels to become soldiers, in northern Uganda. The signed declaration will be presented to the Bush administration, Congress and the United Nations." They're aiming for one million signatures, so head over there and sign it now. There are many ways you can help end the violence against these children—it’s up to you to decide what you will do.
But our protest was gentle, orderly, and, of all surprising things, happy. There were no megaphones, no speeches or even singing. There were only three small signs. About 250 people had signed up* to come but there seemed to be about 500 people at the beginning. Probably 300 or more of those spent the night. Almost all of us were in our teens or twenties. I was about the oldest person I saw (I'm 60). I saw one little family of four bedding down together.
We gathered on the steps of our state Capitol. It was a mild California spring night. As darkness came, we walked once around the Capitol building, through its dimly lit park of ancient leaning trees, through the smell of orange blossoms. I heard people talking about whether they had fresh batteries in their flashlights, and how they felt about camping. Then lugging our sleeping bags, guitars and blankets, we went the short distance to the park in the middle of the city where we spent the night. We saw lots of limos cruising the streets, and girls in fancy dresses and boys in tuxes, as it was prom night for many local high schools. As I walked, I thought of the feet of the little children walking, making their journey. I wondered what they would think if they knew about us.
Ceasar Chavez Park, where we spent the night, is the size of a city block, with a fountain in the middle, and dim old-fashioned lighting. There are concrete paths and lots of grass and trees. Our new city library and other tall buildings rise around it. It's famous as a place for winos to spend the night, but the kids told me the police kicked them out. I was happy to see that there were porta-potties. I was also glad later that I had followed the advice of my brother-in-law and bought toilet paper with me.
Throughout the event there was lots of picture-taking, still and video. We grouped for a video when we got to the park, and then again for a video at six in the morning, when we woke up. (We had to be out of the park by 7 am.) We also all lined up to get a Polaroid of ourselves for an art project we were supposed to do. It sort of reminded me of when I was a kid, making my mom birthday cards. Plus we received stamped envelopes and addresses and paper and suggestions for letters to President Bush and our congressional reps. It was a little hard to do an art project in the dark sitting on the ground, but I saw people working on it.
The event was beautifully planned and the organizers were as smiling, happy, and unharried as workers at Disneyland. All the organizers wore fluorescent green shirts with something like "I'm here to help" written on them.
There was good television coverage. My husband Doug at home caught a piece on us on one channel that included three interviews, footage of us walking to the park and footage of children in Uganda squeezed into a gym. But our city newspaper this morning has nothing!
I camped with some kids I know, Josh and Caitlin and their friends--no adults I knew were there. Josh and Caitlin were wearing fluorescent green shirts, having helped put the event together. They had leafleted various churches and schools and Starbucks and baked over 500 cookies--Josh's special chocolate chocolate cookie recipe. People talk about this being an apathetic generation that's zoned out on their ipods and the internet, but the GNC shows it's definitely otherwise. The kids stayed up and talked until 4 am. I went to sleep at 11 pm. I slept pretty well. I felt perfectly safe. I'd seen the little knot of police officers with their bikes.
At about 6:30 am, after more picture-taking and cleaning up, I gratefully headed home over the Sunday vacant freeways. It felt so strange to turn the key in the lock of my blue wooden door, to be inside again, safe at home. I hope someday the children of Uganda can be safe at home too.
*Checking back at the Invisible Children site, I see that 496 people signed up in the end. When I signed up about a day before the event, there were only 222.
So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them: "I'm here to introduce you to this God.... He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him!" ~Acts 17