If the Freedom Riders had it to do all over again in 2011, I wonder would they. Would they get on the buses and ride through the parts of the country where oppression prevailed, risking their safety, even their lives, for equality, justice & freedom? I wonder if there were a cause in our times, would we have a contingent with enough gall to get on the buses?
I wondered these things while I watched, inspired by the historic group of young people who were the focus of the PBS documentary about their demonstrations in the early 1960s. They were harassed, beaten, humiliated and jailed for being involved in these nonviolent protests, and it made me wonder if there were young people today who felt so passionately about anything that they would risk these dangers. But then I was struck by the ever-apparent reality that there are lots of young folks who are actually introducing the dangers of harassment, beatings, humiliation, jail and death on each other—with no apparent cause—and my inspiration quickly dissolved into sadness.
Here in Central Illinois, even, just this morning the news reported shots fired and two teens reporting gun wounds at a nearby hospital. As the weather gets nicer out, the streets will surely get meaner, and while we all plan to have a great summer, there will undoubtedly be plenty of unavoidable violent tragedies. Someone’s child, nephew, niece, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, mother or father will likely be killed. And it’ll be reported on the news for a day or two. Then there will be another “Cease-Fire” march and vigil. And then we will wait for it to happen all over again. PBS won’t document the 50-year anniversary of it, because it will have changed nothing. More likely it will be a perpetuation of what we have come to expect in neighborhoods all over the country—perhaps we don’t see anything worth living for, so we’re dying for just about anything.
I’m sure nobody wants to get on a bus in protest of that.