A year or so ago, DivaTeen discovered the world of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, and her world turned upside down. She told me that I needed to listen to the soundtrack, that I would love it foreverandeverandever, but I kind of held off. I am always wary of the way that popular culture presents history, and I get irritated by little inaccuracies and inconsistencies. I mean, I was happy that it ignited a passion for history in my daughter. That’s what good pop-culture history is supposed to do. But for myself, I didn’t really want to dive down that rabbit hole and be disappointed.
I freely admit that I was an idiot.
I ended up needing some songs for a racial justice workshop series that I was helping to facilitate, and DivaTeen again recommended Hamilton. So I listened to a couple of songs. And then I listened to a couple more. And now I’m hooked. DivaTeen often asks me if I’m a Hamilfan, but I’m not sure fat middle-aged women should call themselves Hamilfans. But I do listen to the soundtrack at least once a week in my car.
I was reminded of Hamilton last week when we went to the Hoover Dam. Specifically the song “History Has Its Eyes On You” from the first act. It’s basically George Washington talking about how history was watching what was going on and how you don’t have any control over “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” During the dam tour, the guide noted that the marble floors, art deco styling, and observation balconies were created during the building of the dam specifically because they knew that the world was watching and would want to come see history being made. And they did. They came by the thousands, by the millions, to see this marvel of modern engineering. Today we view it as history. And we discuss how it should be presented. And we talk about what has been left out of the story (anybody who wasn’t white, for starters) and what should be added. But when the dam was being built, they were actually making history. And they knew it. They knew that history had its eyes on them.
And it got me thinking, you know, because we know when we’re making history. We know when we are in the thick of these insane, life-changing moments. And we’re in one now. For those of us who are in resistance to this current administration, we are all making choices today and every day about what our movement looks like and what our actions will be. What our country will be. What it means to be American. In a large part, we now tell our own stories. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what my story should say. I have a horrible habit of overanalyzing every situation to the point of inaction. And I don’t think I want my legacy to be “She thought about shit but didn’t do shit and wasn’t shit.” My actions might not be THE narrative, but they are part of my narrative. And my narrative is part of the larger narrative.
So is yours.
On Friday afternoon, I went to the 1st Annual March to Reclaim King’s Radical Legacy hosted by Minister Stretch Sanders of All Shades United. I thought it was important to take the kids so that they could learn a little bit about what the Civil Rights movement was about and how the struggle in the sixties wasn’t the end of anti-Black racism in America. It wasn’t even a pause, and I wanted them to see that the struggle continues today. And I wanted them to understand that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t just fighting to end segregation, but for economic and social equality as well. Mainstream history presents Rev. Dr. King as a benevolent grandfather figure who non-violently brought equality to Black America. It doesn’t teach that Rev. Dr. King was considered one of the most dangerous men in America in his time. That he was a “criminal.” And it doesn’t teach that “non-violent” isn’t the same as “peaceful,” or that non-violence was actually exceptionally violent and that the perpetrators of that violence were most of mainstream white America. And it certainly doesn’t teach the history of anti-Black racism in America that began with slavery, morphed into Jim Crow, transformed into segregation, and is still with us today in many forms – including economic inequality, police brutality, and mass incarceration. It doesn’t teach us any of that shit.
I thought it was important for my kids to learn about these things. This is their history. More importantly, this is their community. So I brought them along while I met up with some folks from our local Showing Up for Racial Justice group and the local Unitarian Universalist Congregation to participate in the rally.
At the rally, we listened to a number of really interesting and inspiring speakers. Then I had to take Middle Little home because his autism had him all overstimulated. DivaTeen stayed with friends (thank you, friends) who took her home after the rally. They marched and listened to more speakers. All of the speakers were great, but I have to give a special shout-out to one amazing young man, Dylan, who blew me away with his eloquence and his fire. Such an amazing young speaker making history at such a young age. I hear people complain a lot about the the entitlement and laziness of the younger generation, but all around me I see people like this awesome young man and it fills me with hope. This generation is going to BE the change. I believe it.
It was a wonderful, uplifting, inspiring rally. It was amazing to see people of all different shades, all different ages, all different abilities, backgrounds, and social groups – such a diverse group of people – come together in the spirit of hope and service and power and change. Some of them were clearly seasoned activists, and some were taking their first tentative steps towards showing up, towards speaking out, towards being the change that they wish to see in the world. Each one of them making a bold step towards writing their own story. Hopefully one of many steps. Hopefully marching towards a tidal wave of change.
So I’m curious… what will your story be? Will you sit back and watch whatever unfolds, or will you add your spark to the fire? Will you shape history, or will you allow yourself to be shaped by it? What you do today could affect untold futures, so what will you choose to do?
Remember, the world is watching.