I tried to pull into the parking lot at Penn Valley College yesterday. I was met in the driveway by two young women, one of whom asked "Are you part of the peace caravan?" I paused for a second, not sure if I wanted to admit that I wasn't joining the peace caravan--I was staying for the vigil and then going home to spend the waning hours of the afternoon with my wife.
Since I paused, she asked a clarifying question. "Are you going to have your car decorated and go with the caravan to the Ammunition Plant?"
"No," I answered.
"Okay," she said. "The parking lot is for the people joining the peace caravan. You need to turn around and go to the next road; turn left and park in the parking garage."
I drove into the parking lot, circled around, driving by dozens of empty spaces, and dutifully drove out, parked in the parking garage and walked back to where the "Bullets Fail, Let Peace Prevail" peace rally and vigil, marking the fourth anniversary of the war on Iraq, was taking place.
The anniversary is actually today. But the rallies and vigils were held over the weekend, in order to garner maximum participation.
There were about two hundred people at Penn Valley College.
The population of the Kansas City metropolitan area is just under two million. So one person in ten thousand in the metro was at the rally.
Of course, if we are statistically equivalent to the rest of the country, a third of the people in the metro wouldn't have been at the rally because they still believe the war in Iraq is an okay thing.
So really, one out of every 6700 people in the metro who feel that the war is not an okay thing was at the rally.
By contrast, there were 4000 people at the taping of Extreme Home Makeover, which built a house north of the river last week. That works out to one person in 500 in the metro. I don't think that figure has to be adjusted, because surely there can't be that many people in the metro who are against building a house for a deserving family.
Okay, here's the point I am not making: the people of the Kansas City metro are apolitical schlubs who would rather get on national TV than speak out against a morally bankrupt and devastating war. I don't think that is true at all.
In fact, I think that there could have been four thousand people at the peace vigil/rally. (For a superior market share!)
But people don't know what they're going to find when they go to a peace rally/vigil. No matter how careful you are with your language, people will translate "rally/vigil" into "protest" in their heads in a nanosecond. A lot of people aren't comfortable at a protest. Okay, yeah, this number is higher here than other places I've lived, like, oh, Berkeley, CA.
The "protest" thing keeps a lot of people away. Especially people with kids. And as hard as the organizers of these events have tried, I noticed yesterday that the numbers were down from past events, and that there was a glaring decline in the number of kids there. And even though the posted rules for the rally forbade violence, even the spoken kind, a speaker (or two) always crosses that line.
People also don't know if they are really welcome at peace rallies. I don't really know how to address this--do you appoint a cadre of "greeters?" It probably couldn't hurt. I do know that when you show up and are told you can't park in the half-empty parking lot next to the action, but you should drive a couple of blocks away and park, you're likely to feel just a little unwelcome. Even if you understand why they wanted all the cars in the same area.
Maybe I'm sensitive to "unwelcome-ness" because I'm a mission pastor trying to help grow a congregation. But I think it's a basic human need, the need to feel welcome.
AND...welcome-ness is especially a Kansas City metro thing. We are heartlanders, midwesterners...The People of the Great Plains of Potluck Grub. We place a high value on making others feel welcome. And we place a high value on feeling welcome. So when we go to a strange place--a church, say, or a peace vigil/rally/protest--we will judge the event based on whether we felt that our presence there was welcome and appreciated.
I did feel appreciated yesterday. I'm sure I was welcome, as were the other folks on the lawn. I was glad I went. If for no other reason than that I got to see and hear my congressman, the Rev. Emmanuel Cleaver, II, who speaks eloquently and passionately about the war, as he does about so many important issues.
I was sorry there weren't more people there, though, since I know the poor turnout is read as lack of political will in Washington, and that means Dick Cheney saw his shadow yesterday and we'll have at least six more months of war (over and over).
There has to be a better way. How can those who want this disaster to end gather together in a positive way, and make their voices heard? I really want to know.