“…and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
even under the sea
we are the ones we have been waiting for”
—excerpt, “Poem for South African Women” by June Jordan
We are gathered at a Walmart in downtown El Paso, forty-six days after the August shooting that killed twenty-three people. We are waiting for the march to begin.
Immediately, I begin to focus in on the details—bullhorns in place, march guides ready to direct, the dispersal of signs. I am anxious, and counting details calms me.
Everything is in place, so of course I begin to doubt the turnout. It's a well-loved ritual of mine to become nervous about turnout. It happens every Sunday morning when, approximately nineteen minutes before the service begins, I whisper to one of my colleagues, “No one is coming”—to which they invariably reply, “Someone is already here.”
We begin marching down the streets of El Paso, beside the Franklin Mountains. Street vendors wave pairs of sneakers as a single counter-protestor musters an incoherent retort. I start glancing through the windows of buildings, on heightened alert in the wake of the shooting.
“Turnout must be lower because of the fear,” I say to myself.
Then I notice her. She’s about six years old, holding the hand of a relative, with a serious and committed look on her face.
I feel a hot rush of embarrassment. “How can I wonder about turnout?” I think. For a quarter mile I’ve been walking beside a child whose family brought her onto a street in a city reeling from a devastating act. I overhear her mother speaking in Spanish, teaching her the chants: “Oye mi gente, traemos la fuerza.”* (“Listen my people, we bring strength.”)
We are never numbers to be tallied for turnout. We are more than a sum. Together, we are the hope and courage. We are the ones we’re waiting for.
May what the mountains have witnessed, and the soul birthed, be our guide. Drawn from the source of our being and our common return, love lead us. Amen.
*words taught by the Peace Poets.