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“Can you see my bra straps?” I ask my boyfriend as we hurry out of the apartment we share on Capitol Hill. My mind is blown that a gchat from a friend in Bosnia has filled me in on an event happening 10 blocks from me. We are rushing out the door to go to the Supreme Court to join a group that has gathered demanding a stay of execution for Troy Davis.
“Yes. I can see the whole back of your bra” he says, fiddling with his keys as we hurry down the street.
The decision could come at anytime, and we want to be there. Want to do what we can to stop the execution of a man we believe is innocent, and I don’t want to be looking for a sweatshirt when it happens.
“Maybe no one will see in the dark?” I say hopefully.
“Floodlights, Darling, street lights, cameras. Its gonna be noticeable.”
I remember I have a cardigan in my oversized purse and pull it on, relieved I won’t have to worry about being the girl who has her bra hanging out on the news.
Minutes later, I am holding the hand of my black boyfriend in a predominantly black city in a mostly black crowd and marching in protest. I hate knowing I am a gentrifier in a neighborhood where African Americans are being pushed out as cupcake stores and frozen yogurt shops come in. I hate that I love the cupcake stores.
But beyond the yuppie guilt, I feel grateful to be here. To live 7 blocks from the Supreme Court and be able to throw my dinner in the trash and run over. Even if my bra straps are showing.
I’m here. I’m here and I want to cry. I'm happy to be here. I am proud. I don’t think my hour of marching makes me superior or erases my yuppie guilt, but I am proud to be here.
It feels good to march, to move, to shout! To do something that isn’t sending an email or tweeting or reposting on Facebook. I’ve spent most of my career working on global poverty campaigns, so it’s always about 4 million people displaced in Darfur or $50 billion for AIDS. I never have been to a protest that feels so intimate -- one man, in Georgia, strapped to a gurney for the past 3 hours, waiting to hear if he is going to die. And having so much faith in God that he refused his last meal, believing it wouldn’t be his last. What would it be like for him if those curtains opened, revealing witnesses but not his own family who are barred from watching, and he knew the hour had come to die?
I am marching with many people, or at least many people for 9 pm on a Wednesday night. About 100 have gathered. Mostly Howard University students. You can tell the NAACP employees because they are older and they all wear suits and have since the lunch counter protest in South Carolina in the 1950s.
I know it is because of these people or people like them that I can plan my big white wedding to my black boyfriend. Because of them we watch "Say Yes to the Dress" and debate peonies versus roses. Because of people like the people here tonight we can hold hands and kiss in public and feel totally unafraid.
It’s not a perfect world. We’ve been harassed in the street even here, but when I think that when these people were my age, the consequences for those actions could have been a swift, violent and public death for my boyfriend, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude. I want to run up to them and hug them. I want to say thank you. Thank you for making a world where we can love each other. But I don’t. I march. I feel privileged to stand next to them. And for once, feeling privileged is a good thing.
The Howard students are the loudest and the majority of people there. There are a handful of white people, organizers from Amnesty International who look like they haven’t slept in weeks. I know one of them, we speak and I am ashamed. Deeply ashamed that I haven’t done more, that I don’t do more, that I so often ignore the stories that are one person, one gurney, one needle, in the name of being “interested in systemic reform” or “globally focused.”
It's a lie. I am afraid. Afraid to be so intimate with injustice. To have it live in my neighborhood, in my coffee shop and train station. Like it's going to slip into my shoes and laugh at my designer bags. I want to fight it, but I want to fight it somewhere else, somewhere that doesn’t feel like something that could happen to me or someone I love.
We stand below the Supreme Court, which is beautiful in the golden floodlights, columns raised, a pillar of American justice. On the steps stand six white cops and one black cop, who looks deeply uncomfortable. He fidgets. Takes his hat off, puts it back on, scratches his head, looks around.
I wonder how it feels to look down at a group of protesters who are marching to free someone convicted of killing a cop, and what they must think of us. Are they thinking of their children safe in bed, and wondering what would happen to them if they were killed in the line of duty? They don’t interfere. They don’t push. They watch like silent hawks as we call the death penalty racist and chant that there is too much doubt. They create a barrier between us and those with power, the Supreme Court Justices who decide to allow Troy Davis to be murdered by the State of Georgia.
There was a part of me that never really thought Troy Davis would be executed. Even after 3 hard years in Washington, where we fight and fight and mostly lose, I never really thought this would happen. The cynical DC girl in me had been silenced for a few hours by someone I’d forgotten about, a girl who moved here because she believed marching mattered and anyone could change the world.
I can only imagine how his killing is affecting people who have watched this case and fought for Troy’s life for the past 15 years.
I wonder if Troy Davis knew any of these protests, in DC, and all over Georgia, were happening, if it was whispered to him out of kindness that people are marching to free him, or at least stay his execution pending appeal. I wonder how long he lay there, needle in his arm, waiting. I can take some solace in knowing when they took him into the chamber, and opened up the curtain to witnesses, he knew nearly 1 million people had taken action to spare his life. People all over the world. He didn’t die alone.