I don't know how to write about yesterday. How to describe. Even where to begin.
I was one of a thousand people at the state house in Augusta, attending a rally to protest the funding cuts that will decimate some of the most critical social services in the state. I've been to many, many rallies at the capitol. I've never, EVER, been to one this big. (Senator John Martin, who has been a legislator up there since, hmmm...the War of 1812...says it's the biggest rally he's ever seen.) Security police threatened to close down the statehouse if the protesters didn't filter into other rooms, and if Governor Baldacci was hiding in his office at 11:30, well, I hope all those very expensive paintings didn't fall off the wall from the rumble and roar and deafening shouts coming out of the Hall of Flags. Mostly I hope the Governor was listening to the most vulnerable of the people he claims to be serving. And shame on him if he wasn't.
It was simply incredible.
Most of the time I'm at one of these rallies/protests/press conferences in Augusta because of a queer issue. In fact as I sit here typing, I can't honestly think of a time I've held a sign in my hand when it wasn't about the LGBT community. Except for yesterday. I'm a little embarrassed about that, maybe even a little ashamed. I am constantly making the case to our straight allies that they need to help us fight in the trenches. I need to live better by my own words.
There were many, many moments yesterday that I won't ever forget, but one in particular is sitting like a lump in my throat. I met a family who is depending on the services of a domestic violence agency. I first noticed them because the mom was holding one of the sweetest babies I've ever seen. This baby, even amid the chaos of a thousand people, was smiling like she didn't have a care in the world. I mean she was just. beaming. The kind of smile that makes your heart fill up in an instant. Boom. You see that smile, and you're done.
Then I spotted her big sister. She was holding a sign, a personal plea to the governor in the hand-writing of a child. I think I said something like, "Hey there...and who are you?" And was then introduced to her by someone who I suspect is her current heroine, (and one of mine), my friend Jill. I bent down to get at eye level with her, and she just looked at me. Didn't say a word.
But her eyes were...
I thought immediately, those eyes have seen too much. Those eyes are far older than the eleven year-old girl they belong to. Those eyes are...too wise. Tired. Scared. . And then Jill said "she wrote a letter to the governor, all by herself." And the little girl reached into her pocket and pulled out a copy, a little tattered, folded and unfolded a hundred times probably. And she handed it to me.
"I get to read it?" A shy nod.
And so I unfolded it, and read every word. And it broke my goddamn heart. She wrote that no kid should have to worry about whether or not their mom is going to get beat up tonight. She wrote about domestic violence statistics and she wrote that she was one of them. It was a beautiful, articulate, gut-wrenching letter, and no kid should ever, EVER, have to carry those kinds of experiences inside of them.
After I read it, she finally started talking...and then couldn't stop. She told me about the shelter, and the people, like Jill, who were helping her family get back on their feet. And then her mom told me about her other child, who was going to come today, but who stayed back at the shelter to help another kid who was having some problems dealing with life. And I said, "wow, you've got some rock star kids."
At which point she said "thanks to the shelter, yeah. My kids are finding their way now. We are. The shelter is saving our lives." And she sounded so grateful. And so goddamn scared.
"I don't know what we'll do...."
And I thought my god, that smiling, beaming baby is so different than her big sister. She won't remember this. But if these cuts go through...she'll end up living it.
Eh. I cannot get that family out of my head.
Yesterday I became acutely aware of the revolving door that is privilege. Walk through one door and you've got none...walk through another, and you're the only one that has any at all. Most of the people I stood next to yesterday were fighting for their lives, quite literally. I don't know how that feels. I have heating oil in the tank. Food in the fridge. A roof over my head. A job, loving family and friends, and I am safe. Privileged indeed.
It's almost embarrassing when you're the one who has it, and you're having a conversation with a family who has...none.
But when you realize it, you also realize you have two choices. You can thank your lucky stars you've got it and walk away and amass some more. Or you can take responsibility and help someone who just needs a little. tiny. bit. of it.
Our Privileged, Republi...oops, I mean Democrat... of a Governor is insisting there is no other way to solve this current budget crisis than to bleed these social services dry. I don't believe that, not for a minute. (Maybe the Governor should sell some of those expensive paintings.) How about adding a penny to sales tax? We won't even notice it, and I promise, tourists don't look up sales tax rates when they decide to take vacations. One goddamn penny.
Are we so selfish, so greedy, that we can look that eleven year-old kid in the eyes and tell her she's not worth a penny?