Not Your Norman Rockwell Park Experience
Summer concerts in our local parks have always strengthened my appreciation for small-town America. Seeing families out for an early evening adventure is a pleasure. Watching little girls in their colorful dresses dancing and giggling and boys chasing each other through the ancient trees make me nostalgic for my grandchildren’s early years. Teens posturing self-consciously as they try to impress everyone with their cool-dude swagger make me smile.
Massive oaks fill the park with dappled late afternoon sunshine. Seeing folks spreading blankets on the grass and popping open camping chairs as they greet their friends is downright Rockwellian. They dig in their coolers for a beer or bottle of wine, lay out picnics, and chat amiably as the music pours forth from the bandstand. I’ve always loved spending a few hours with my neighbors in such a relaxing, friendly atmosphere.
Until last night.
I met friends in the park, which was crowded since the weather was so pleasant. We chose a spot near the bandstand, bedecked in buntings and flags to celebrate the 4th of July holiday. The band, an old-timey country group complete with fiddles and western garb, struck up a Gene Autry tune while we spread our refreshments on a blanket in the shade. We were absorbed in our conversation as the mistress of ceremonies listed local businesses and social clubs sponsoring the event. It was picture-perfect Americana.
The speaker introduced a local girl to sing the national anthem. We all rose, men clapping hands over their hearts, as the young woman warbled the familiar notes. When she reached the “Land of the free,” the audience erupted in applause and cheers. It roared again at the word “Brave.” Instantly, my party and I realized that these people were celebrating the end of Roe vs. Wade, the power of the NRA, stolen election craziness, and all the rest of the egregious far-right victories handed down by our Supreme Court in recent days. We three were an island of liberalism floating in a sea of smugness about their conquests. One of my companions leaned over and whispered, “I think I understand where the right-wing rage is coming from. I’ve never felt like the minority before, but right now, I certainly do. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, isn’t it?” I agreed.
I began to see those around me in a different light. I hadn’t noticed how many “Let’s Go, Brandon” t-shirts were in the crowd until that moment, how many American flag tattoos and flags, which these days indicate far-right leanings, were sprinkled through the crowd. Big, muscular men and their women in their big hair and too-sparkly get-ups suddenly took on an air of menace. My sentimental sense of togetherness was replaced with wariness and a little frisson of fear. I knew I wasn’t in any present danger, that I was overreacting. Still, the crowd’s intensity made me understand, as I never had before, the powerful presence of an ultra-conservative crowd.
We continued drinking our wine and enjoying the music and tried to reclaim our happier moods. But the final jolt of reality came when the good-old-boy band leader led the audience in a fervent rendition of “Amazing Grace.” People joined in, many raising their hands to the sky in exaltation while others clasped hands with their neighbors. We three gaped at the solidarity we witnessed.
With our things packed up, we trudged to our car wordlessly. For the first time, I felt the extent of “otherness” in my country. My beliefs were dashed. Gone were the guarantees that a person’s faith was a private affair, that church and state cannot make an unholy alliance, that differences of opinion between liberals and conservatives were not a cause for armed combat, pernicious lies, and disrespect for our nation’s most revered tenets.
After contemplating this experience for a few days, I have reached two conclusions. First, I bear some responsibility for our country’s precarious situation. I stood by as those who wished to limit our rights as women and free-thinking citizens allowed the unspeakable revision of our fundamental rights. My traveling to Washington for the Trump election protest did absolutely nothing to stop the train of injustice. It wasn’t enough. I should have been working hard to place liberals in positions of power. Through manipulation, fraud, hegemony, and the support of ruthless politicians, three unqualified, corrupt individuals have grabbed the ability to change our lives. Mea culpa.
Second, I see that my path to personal redemption means taking all necessary steps to support those who will untie the bonds placed on women, destroy LGBTQ rights, enact gun-control legislation and head off future bad decisions as they arise. For my penance, I will support liberal candidates in local and state elections and help candidates in other states who promise to fight against the powers that have slashed our Constitutional rights. And I will continue to march for all these causes, just to keep my hand in!
Sadly, the innocent pleasures in sun-dappled afternoons in the park are over for me. Oh, I’ll still go to listen to the music from time to time, but I’ll be sitting in the very back part of the park and leave before the hymns begin.
God bless America.