I was lying on my couch reading Game of Thrones on Monday afternoon when I heard the megaphone start blaring. “Oh yeah, it’s the protest. We’re shutting down Woodland Ave!” I grabbed Oliver, my 2 year old son, and we ran down the street to join the crowd. We were blocking Woodland Ave. to send a message to those in power that we would not turn a blind eye to the closing of Wilson Elementary School, the local relatively well performing school that was among the 23 schools that are closing.
Of course the situation is complicated. All the dots don’t connect. You can make a cogent argument for school closures, yes, but we must agree that something is fundamentally wrong when we’re building a $400 Million prison in Philadelphia while closing schools and slashing support staff in our public schools. One of the folks I ran out onto the avenue to stand with got it right on his sign (pictured here). “Invest in a child’s education not the projected benefit of their incarceration. Save our children. Save our schools!” At first I was the only white guy in the crowd. The rhetoric was heavily afrocentric but I tried not to feel excluded. I would have liked to send my child to this school too. This is however an overwhelming black issue as this infographic so clearly portrays. Schools in predominantly white neighborhoods do not get closed. There’s something wrong with that, so I had to stand with my neighbors in the middle of the street.
I’m not at all confident that our protest will do anything to reopen Wilson School but I am really glad I was there and Oliver was there with me. I have four reasons
1) I wanted to teach Oliver that he should do something about convictions. They mean nothing if they stay in his head. (He did not want to be there so this was a hard fought lesson)
2) I know that my responsibility to Jesus is not about success but about witness. Many of the speakers who got on the megaphone were Christians and their faith was not checked at the door. They had a sense of themselves as prophets calling out truth to power and God was on their side. I agree. We’ll keep working to be effective but being faithful in our word and deed does not require our success.
3) I am with these people. These are my neighbors and I wanted to demonstrate with them. Their cause is my cause, even if the way they express it is not exactly the way I would. My block captain invited me and I said I would be there, then I was there. She was impressed.
4) I made friends. I met more people on my block and I’m praying God gives us the opportunity to share our lives together. God might make us partners in more causes, even his cause at Circle of Hope.
If I had stayed on the couch I wouldn’t have been able to be all these things that afternoon. I don’t have any very new ideas here, but I do have a new experience that backs up the ideas. I had to show up. I had to be there with Jesus and with his people.