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Day 7: I Got Nothing

By Lu-Anne Haukaas Lopez

I got nothing. Nothing at all. Days on this bus are filled with abstracts—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. When I arrived in DC six days ago, I was taken aback when many fellow riders asked me, “What did YOU do to get on this bus?” I didn’t know how to answer, so I listened. I listened to fellow student riders describing extracurricular, extraordinary lives of civic service—of registering immigrant voters in Arizona, of marching against mountaintop removal in West Virginia, of donating cafeteria food cards to local homeless shelters. I didn’t realize I had signed up for this. How the hell, what the hell did I do to get on this bus? So I patterned my answers on theirs. I pushed my campus involvement in Alaska Native and American Indian equality issues. I harked back to my years counseling sexual abuse victims in Australia. And then I hoped people would stop asking, would deem me legitimized.  But deep down, I knew, that wasn’t, isn’t, why I’m here.

I hate abstracts. Word hungry, I’ll choose the concrete time and again. I want to put color, sound, green and grind to the illusives. But this bus is filled with people who live for the illusive. Riding with Rip or Joan, Bob or Helen, I don’t feel worthy. My nametag brashly brands: Student Freedom Rider, but I know the truth. I’m no Freedom Rider. I get on the bus without fear, sit where I want with whom I want. I go to sleep on a mattress in a room with a shower, an iron, a hair dryer. I lose pencils daily, I don’t smuggle them in under my hair. I’m glad for the Lysol wipes in the bus toilet, I don’t chill or still at their smell. I eat grits, I eat fruit, I eat and eat and eat. The back of my head isn’t black, isn’t shaved, doesn’t show the scars of bars and beating. I’m not a Freedom Rider.

But these are. The Rips, the Joans, the Bobs, the Helens, the Charleses, the Hanks—these are. Sitting here, being here, listening here, a little bit of my “why,” my “what,” is emerging. I am here to be their platform, their perpetuation. I’m not the visionary, I’m the vessel. Yes, yes, I know it’s up to this generation to assume its “place”—I get that. I get that we’re here to continue not to conclude. I get that we represent a virtual flotilla of tweeting, posting hope to the world. I get this. And I don’t doubt that many of us will change this world, will be the next step, the next leap, the next legacy. I don’t doubt that many of us will turn these abstracts, these bus ride beliefs into the contagious, into the concrete. But for right now, for right here, I’m riding for them. I’m riding for the wall of four hundred faces. I’m riding for the long rows of Parchman cells. I’m riding to get to New Orleans. Finally. You see, completing this ride is vastly more than an inspirational experience. Completing this ride is a home coming for this movement and the world. Debarking the bus in the company of our young, expectant faces, the lens of the world will be focused on their legacy, our lineage.

When Charles Person, one of the original CORE thirteen, turned to us in Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist tonight, and spoke into the charged atmosphere still ringing with spirituals: “You are now Freedom Riders. You have been anointed,” I swallowed the ache in my throat. I looked into his weathered face, my eyes filling. Charles, I want to be. I really want to be.

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4 responses to “Day 7: I Got Nothing”

  1. Rebecca Littlejohn

    14th May, 11

    This is beautiful, Lu-Anne. I have no doubt that you are where you are supposed to be. Soak it in!

  2. Harold Haukaas

    15th May, 11

    Very good, might be a little to real for the others to admit to somewhat the same sense of lack of belonging. Just rest in this that you will get the mileage or this experience either today or tomorrow, when the time comes for it to surface. love hh

  3. Joan Eisenstodt

    15th May, 11

    I cried as I read this and I understand.

    Why? Because I’ve never been beaten, to the best of my knowledge no one in my family died in the Holocaust – perhaps a distant relative but no one we knew; I marched, as a child, for civil rights, as an adult for gay rights, for women’s rights, for union rights, for all human rights, and was never jailed. I donate to good causes, I write letters, I try to influence .. and my guilt of having a (nice) roof over my head and all the other things you said about what you are experiencing is the same.

    And yet .. you are ON this journey – you are hearing from people and experiencing places and living with others and LEARNING what it was and what it is. And you will carry that message forth.

    You’ve heard the phrase “Never again” perhaps – two words often used in conjunction with teaching about the Holocaust, ensuring that the lessons never die. Well, clearly they have died because we “let” Syria and Libya and Darfur and so many other places happen. There will always be rights to defend and people to help. No matter how we do it, we are DOING not sitting back and saying that ACTING is for others.

    One action, no matter how small we may think it is, can move 1 more person who then moves another and she another ….

    You are on this ride – the Freedom Ride and the ride of choosing a life of service in some way.You may not see or feel the impact immediately and it will still be there.

    From the moment we met last week (only 1 week!) ago, I have talked about you and Francisco and Erica — and all of you pretty much non-stop. Today, Joel and I will spend time with a bunch of long-time friends – 1 of whom was the first Exec Director fo what was then the Human Rights Campaign Fund, another who advocates for marriage equality, and others who have done so much. I will talk more about all of you and your contribution and my hope in your generation.

    Keep going .. remember that each word is an act and each word can carry great weight.

    I admire you and hope we can be friends for a very long time.
    Sending you love and strength to see your role.

  4. Jackie Flaten

    16th May, 11

    What an eloquent, moving, wonderful post, Lu-Anne. Thank you for sharing your experiences on this historic journey.