On Persistence

There are several churches in DC that I visit regularly. Most of them are black churches, but one is 90% white – and that’s where I went this morning.

As people were getting seated for the service, a few people were taping large signs up on the painted cinderblock walls of the sanctuary: BLACK LIVES MATTER. STOP THE VIOLENCE. LOVE THY NEIGHBOR. END THE WHITE SILENCE.

After the opening song, a petite teen girl with strawberry blonde hair stood up to address the crowd. She explained that last Tuesday, members from the church had gathered to hold these signs by the side of the road. It was her idea, but she said that at first she had been nervous about how it would be received.

While she was speaking, one of the signs started to peel off, its border of clear packing tape unable to keep contact with the shiny, textured wall. It landed on the floor in a heap, and several other signs soon followed.

People tried to keep listening to the girl and not pay attention to the disruption of the signs falling down.

She went on to say how she was surprised when quite a few people from the church had showed up to participate on Tuesday, and many drivers had also reacted positively – honking, waving, yelling “God bless you!” and even pulling over to give hugs. She talked about bible verses that had inspired wording on some of the signs, and how important she believes it is to stand up for victims and not silence their voices.

Which was ironic, because the messages of solidarity were literally falling flat on the ground, and no one was doing anything about it.

Except for one elderly black man.

He got up, gingerly lifted up one of the fallen signs, and started carefully, thoroughly pressing every inch of its tape back onto the wall. As if to say, “This matters.” As if to say, “I will not let this remain on the ground.”

Two white men then joined him, doing their best to stick the signs back up as the teen girl went on with her speech. And I thought that was beautiful.

Then one of the re-attached signs fell down a second time, and no one got up to do anything about it. Maybe because it felt futile. Maybe because it felt like nothing they were doing was having any lasting effect. Maybe because it was easier to just give up.

But to me, that felt like treating the message as if it wasn’t worth the effort. As if it wasn’t important enough to keep reiterating when it got silenced.

I was looking at the whole situation symbolically, but I was also looking at it scientifically. Packing tape wasn’t working, especially when placed in an even border around each sign. And doing the exact same thing again would likely yield exactly the same result.

So when yet another sign fell, I got up and re-attached the two fallen signs using some duct tape that I happened to have in my purse. A short piece of vertical duct tape proved to be more effective than a long piece of horizontal packing tape – and a good thing too, because I only had a little.

But even a little can make a difference.

This was originally posted on July 17, 2016, and last edited on July 30, 2016.