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Reflections On Taking A Knee with My Neighbors

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Participating at the Take A Knee Vigil, Evanston, June 8, 2020

My knees hurt. Not always, but sometimes. It's age and arthritis and, believe it or not, what I've eaten recently. Thankfully, it's not debilitating but mornings often find me stiff and sore until I work the kinks out. I remember when I was a kid and Old Folks used to talk about their aches and pains and I simply couldn't imagine that ever happening to me. I shudder to think how smug I was. My sore knees tonight are not due to either arthritis or stiffness.

what 'going out' looks like these days, modeling mask made by Judy White
what 'going out' looks like these days, modeling mask made by Judy White
(Image by courtesy of Joan Brunwasser)
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I attended a Take a Knee vigil at a nearby park earlier this evening. It was a stroke of luck really that I heard about it at all. Work today was crazy busy. I never got outside for my morning walk at all and I finally ate lunch at 5:30. I didn't sleep well last night and it was so tempting to just lie low and go absolutely nowhere. But I also know that when I finally get outside, even if the day is almost over, I feel so much better: energized and revived.

My morning walk finally took place around 7pm. My 35-minute route winds through a lovely residential area. While I was walking, my friend Maureen texted to ask if I wanted to meet them at a nearby park at 8pm. I was totally unaware of the vigil. It was a neighborhood grassroots effort, along with many other Take A Knee events happening at the same time all over the country. Flyers were distributed today. Luckily, Maureen got one.

The timing was perfect. I finished my circuit and picked up Maureen and Corinne. Neighbors joined us, headed in the same direction. It reminded me of a mini-version of Ann Arbor on a football afternoon, streets clogged with people with a shared destination. There were only a few people milling around when we arrived, but by the time the vigil started, the park was filled with neighbors of all ages, keeping social distance.

The organizers spoke briefly. We were going to kneel in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds. That's how long Officer Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck, not stopping until Mr. Floyd was lifeless beneath him. Because of my sore knees, I looked for a spot by a tree so I could lean on it to ease my way down and afterward, to pull myself up, in case I got stuck. Ordinarily, if need be, I could ask someone to pull me up. Embarrassing perhaps but doable. But not an option during these days of pandemic.

So I cleverly found a nearby tree with low branches and we began the eight minute vigil. What I didn't count on was the utter discomfort and pain I was suffering at the hands of what we used to call tanbark, nowadays renamed wood chips. They dug into my knees in the most thorough and excruciating way. Perversely, I welcomed the pain. The good news was that after it was over, I would be able to elevate myself off the ground. The bad news was that my knees felt as though they might be permanently indented by the rough and very hard chips. A mere eight and a half minutes never passed so slowly. Then, I thought to myself: I get to resume my life. At least, the discomfort and pain will pass for me. But not for George Floyd. I began to breathe more slowly and mindfully. I recalled the video documenting the maddeningly nonchalant way that Officer Chauvin kept one hand in his pocket while he knelt on George Floyd's neck. Reportedly, Chauvin was fearful and felt endangered. Whoever heard of a person voluntarily disarming himself by putting one hand in his pocket while attempting to subdue a dangerous foe? Not me.

After the brief yet also endless kneeling, we stood silently. Someone began to sing "America, the Beautiful". It was beautiful and haunting and ineffably sad, all at the same time. Who can look at America now and see her majesty? The image seared in my brain has been that of a cowardly and narcissistic bully, wielding a bible as prop as he proudly engineers a photo op by ordering a peaceful protest in Lafayette Park cleared with excessive, loud and photogenic force. It's hard to think that someone might find that a compelling or positive image.

There is plenty of coverage now of the unanticipated waves of protesters across the country. Citizens of all stripes continue to stand up to the warlike police, whose original mission as peace officers has never been so visibly contorted and compromised. I am hyper aware of these two very separate Americas. I stand proudly on this side of the divide. I'm so glad that I was able to participate, however serendipitously, in a precious moment in time, in a green park, with a diverse group of like-minded neighbors, on a beautiful summer evening. If an image has to get stuck in my head, I choose this one over that of embattled Lafayette Park and the Bully-In-Chief.

my Tree of Life earrings, made by a local artisan, hold extra meaning these days
my Tree of Life earrings, made by a local artisan, hold extra meaning these days
(Image by courtesy of Joan Brunwasser)
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I'm freely exercising my right to choose - unity over divisiveness, awareness over ignorance, action over paralysis, hope over despair. I have a feeling we will have to keep exercising that choice, over and over, in the days to come. By the time this crisis eventually passes, maybe it will have become second nature to make thoughtful, life-affirming choices. That would be a good thing for all of us, individually and as a nation. I welcome that change.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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