By Davis Knittle
There are several questions that have been pervasive, almost haunting, since our kickoff event last night at the Newseum. The first question I asked of Diane Nash today, and have since spoken about with many of the student riders: “Who gets to police American collectivity?” The second question: “What is America’s understanding of itself?” And with that “What does it mean, 50 years later, for us to be getting on the bus?” has also been guiding my experience so far. I’ve been speaking with a number of the student riders as to our collective and individual conceptions of what we’re doing here — of what it means of us to be on the bus.
Diane Nash spoke today, in the context of our impending ride, about needing to understand a clear collective goal in order for non-violent action to be effective. What’s difficult about generating effective non-violent action in our current American moment is that the systems and the questions of this moment need to be taken apart before they’re parsable in a way that lends itself to any kind of direct action. For us, being here is a meta-action. We’re getting on the bus to puzzle out civic engagement. To think about where America will be in 50 more years. I’ve been impressed, today, about how scary we all think America is, about how scared we are of what a misuse of resources might look like in 50 years, of what will happen to our country if we don’t figure out effective systems of providing the basics social needs of, for example, healthcare and education.
All day, I’ve been wondering about what this time, this American breaking point will look like in a decade. Getting on the bus, with that in mind, is an opportunity to have these necessary conversations about what collectivity could look like, about our hopes for America. I have a complicated relationship to patriotism. I’m proud to be an American, and I feel lucky to be able to see these sites of history, and to see this basic American land, as we extend into the south. The question I’ll travel with is: “Who’s America is this?” Who lives here? What did the electoral politics of the 1980s become? What do we vote with now? What’s an act that’s more than a vote, if a vote isn’t enough?
The initial Freedom Ride, was, in my understanding, a production of late modernism. A post-modern reality wouldn’t allow for such an uncompromised action. Civic display is something else now. Each of the 40 of us are active, in some way, in our school and surrounding communities. When we take responsibility for being Americans, what will that look like? What will we need to do? How do we begin to sort out what our civic reality looks like? What our American reality is, even before we start to puzzle out what and how it could be?