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.