From the Editor: More than our flags: True community encourages many types of courage

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Photo courtesy of Graphic Stock

BY HEATHER WRIGHT — As a registered Independent and lover of cross-cultural dialogue, I was heartened when I read a teaser in the Jan. 22 Washington Post’s Metro section: “Mike Pence helped make us better neighbors when he took up temporary residence in Northwest.” The opinion article was entitled “We will miss the Pences.” Wow, I thought, people unexpectedly coming together across political lines and learning what it means to be neighbors.

The article did invoke neighborliness and demonstrated a kind of unity. In protest of “Pence’s hateful policies on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” the article’s authors hung a rainbow flag on their house. More and more neighbors joined in flying rainbow flags, a CNN interview about the flags went viral on Facebook, and response to the peaceful protest was reported to be overwhelmingly positive. The article included a quote from a lesbian in California: “Your beautiful, kind, brave act moved me to tears and it will stay with me, always.”

These neighbors found a way to show solidarity and support to the LGBT community and also found common ground in their “respectful protest.” And yet, I kept thinking about the Pences. In all that time, did anyone welcome them? Did anyone bring them over a bread basket, or ask them in for coffee? Will anyone from that neighborhood truly miss the Pences for who they are, rather than as someone to rally against, albeit respectfully? Put another way, would the Pences say that they were welcomed and treated as neighbors?

That’s missing the point, some might say. And, to be fair, the article does not rule out the possibility of neighborliness towards the Pences. It could’ve happened, right?

Several days after the election, I attended my usual “cocktail hour” on Friday, hosted by a friend in Hyattsville. She graciously invited friends of all political persuasions to come together and debrief, emphasizing that all were welcome. And we came: Democrats, Republicans, Independents and possibly a Libertarian or two. Three were “out” as Trump supporters. We were all in different emotional states, ranging from relieved and elated to angry and despondent. I won’t say that voices weren’t raised or that things didn’t become heated at times. They were, and they certainly did. But we gathered together and listened. We broke bread and drank some sort of red-white-and-blue cocktail. We discussed and vented and challenged one another. And we will gather again, albeit perhaps in a less raw state. And all because a hospitable, kind Hyattsville resident invites us and makes us all feel included, listened to and valued.

The Women’s March occurred one day after President Trump’s inauguration. The march started with an example of courage in action: retired attorney Teresa Shook had the idea that women could march in Washington around the time of Inauguration Day, and with the help of friends, she created a Facebook event page. You may have heard, her idea sort of caught on. And it demonstrated the courage of many to take a belief and turn it into public statement and action.

Following the Women’s March, another type of courage surfaced on the Hyattsville Catholic Women’s listserv. After the organizing committee cut ties with New Wave Feminists, a pro-life organization, some pro-life women were not sure if they could or should be part of the Women’s March. Some chose to go in spite of their reservations. On the listserv, one woman who attended described how she had joined up with a pro-life contingent holding signs during the march. Although, she wrote, there “were definitely some eye rolls and snide comments” from other participants, there were also people who came over to the group to say that “while they were pro-choice, they were really happy to see pro-lifers there and a diversity of opinions after everything that happened [that] week.” The courage to reach across a deep divide and connect with the “other.” To reach across and declare “I see you, I disagree with you — perhaps profoundly — but I see you and know you are worthy of my attention.”

So, fly your flags. Post your bumper stickers. March and carry your signs. Show your solidarity for your cause and those who support it. Have the courage to live and declare the truth as you know it.

And yet, we are all more than our flags, more than our bumper stickers and posters. Who is my neighbor? Even the one who is flying a different flag, marching in a different march. Have the courage to love that neighbor, ask them in, and maybe, just maybe, really miss them when they have to go.