Here I was, standing in the arms of someone I loved, having him whisper to me, Let’s throw some tea overboard. It was hard to imagine what Paul Revere would make of us—it was possible that he’d get on his horse as fast as he could and ride in the opposite direction. But I liked to think he’d understand exactly what we were doing. This time we weren’t going to wear a disguise, and we’d left our tomahawks and muskets at home. We were simply ourselves. Unmasked. Unarmed.
“My fellow Americans,” a prominent senator cheered, “I present to you the next Vice President of the United States…Alice Martinez.”
We all knew Alice Martinez’s story—her rise from poverty; her mixed heritage; her abusive ex-husband; her tenacity as the mayor of Jacksonville and her tenure as a senator from Florida. We were all familiar with Alice Martinez’s appearance—her straight black hair, always an inch north of her shoulders; the color of her skin, the white of her smile; the fierce intelligence of her eyes, which she refused to tone down even when consultants told her she was coming across as too smart, too unapproachable. But even if we’d heard her story and seen her face hundreds of times, there was still something electrifying about having her step onto the stage to address us directly. From where we were standing, I would have needed to zoom in two hundred percent in order to distinguish her from any of the other people standing on the stage. But still—it meant something to be sharing the same space with her, no matter how big. It meant something to share the same time and place, to know that even if she couldn’t look into each of our eyes, there was an energy to us that she could use—just as there was an energy in her that made us stand strong.
She greeted us, then applauded us—the sound of her two hands clapping reverberated like a quick marching beat through the speakers strewn around us. Then she talked to us about the challenge of Kansas, and how the governor’s accusations were falling apart like a paper lie in an ocean of truth.
“I’m telling you this: Our opponents are trying to play this game as it’s always been played—in the back rooms, in the darkness, while they try to make their power as absolute as possible, disregarding the will of the people. They spread lies and misinformation. They try to use time to their advantage. And mostly, by the power vested in them by their investments, they try to use money and intimidation against us.
“Well, I will not be intimidated. I have been through enough in this life to know that you can’t just sit there and take it, no matter how scary it is to defend yourself. If they want to hide in the darkness, we are going to shine a light. You know how this works. Sometimes it feels like all you have is a single, small flashlight to fight back with. But that’s where others come in. One flashlight can’t take on such darkness. Two flashlights can’t. But imagine thousands of flashlights shining on the same place. Imagine millions of flashlights. Because that is what we are. Here, and at every state capitol in this nation. From Juneau and Honolulu to Tallahassee and Augusta, the warm, bright light of truth is streaming into Topeka, and there is no place for the makers of deceptions and untruths to hide. Our light will not falter, because it emanates from our conscience, and our sense of right, and our knowledge of what needs to be done. We will not waiver, we will not dim, and we will not turn away until justice is restored and this attempt to thwart an election is defeated.
“I thank you for being here. And I thank you for staying here. It is now my pleasure to introduce the popularly and electorally elected next President of the United States of America…Abraham Stein!”
How do you describe the sound of a million people cheering at once? It was as if the air became so saturated with our voices that we were breathing sound. If I’d taken every conversation I’d ever had—every cheer I’d ever raised—every song I’d ever heard—and played them all at once, it would have sounded something like the crescendo of goodwill that was now being released. As Stein walked onto the stage, we could not stop clapping, yelling, whooping. Gus put two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. Virgil’s eyes grew teary. Janna and Mandy sang out. Sue hollered joyfully and Elwood ululated. Jimmy held me tighter and let me clap and cheer for both of us. It was something beyond a standing ovation—it was a living ovation.
“I thank you all for coming here and joining me to stand up for truth, justice, and democracy. I am told there are now over a million of you here in Topeka, with more arriving even as I speak. There are four million more of you in front of the capitols of every state in this nation, and countless more watching this all over the United States and around the world. Your reaction has been swift, sincere, and strong. Your faith, like mine, remains resolute.
“Whenever democracy is threatened, all of the beliefs and understandings behind it are also threatened. Whenever a truth is challenged, the value of all truths is challenged. Abraham Lincoln knew this. He knew that the Civil War tested whether our nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, could long endure. And in the Gettysburg Address he articulated the hope, the desire, the mission that brings us all here today: Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
“Let me repeat that again: Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. I stand here before you of the people, by the people, and for the people. I stand here not only to protect the votes of each and every one of you who voted for me, but also to protect the country of each and every one of you who didn’t. This election was decided beyond a doubt five days ago. Thus we must stand up against the people who want to create doubt, instill fear, and subvert our democratic process.
“We will not be tricked. We will not be silenced. And we will not be moved. I will stay here until the truth prevails. I ask you, too, to keep protesting until this election comes to its full and fair conclusion. We do not ask, as Lincoln did, for a new birth of freedom. Instead, we ask for the preservation of the freedoms we have long held dear, and for the affirmation of a nation that offers its citizens fairness, kindness, and truth. Let us join together until this challenge has passed. And then let us stay together to celebrate the glory of life, liberty, and equality.”
Everyone started cheering again, even louder than before.
The chant started. Only part of the cheer at first, then—as more and more people caught on—becoming the cheer itself.
“We will not be moved.
We will not be moved.
We will not be moved.”
Stein, Martinez, and their families were all onstage now, saying the words along with us. On our screens, we could see other people across the country saying it, too. It was like the power of prayer, hearing everyone say the same words at the same time and giving them the weight of meaning.
“We will not be moved.”
I had no idea how long it would take. I had no idea how it would work. But I knew instantly that I would stay until the very end. I would stay until truth prevailed.
Jimmy’s voice was right next to mine. I wanted to kiss him, so I did. To add to the thereness of the moment. To say we would not be moved.
Eventually, the chanting stopped. Eventually, a group of folk-singers and soul singers took the stage, starting with “This Land Is Your Land” and pulling us through a medley that emphasized the patriotism we all felt, the patriotism of freedom. Eventually, particles of the crowd began their own retreat. The rest of us started to think about settling in.
I don’t think anybody in our group had thought about staying beyond the rally. We were unprepared for Stein’s request. The governor of Kansas, however, wasn’t as surprised. No more than ten minutes after our chanting had stopped, he announced that the crowd had to disperse, since the permit to be on public land had expired when the rally ended.
Stein’s response: “We’re staying.”
The governor’s response to that: “I’ll send in the cops.”
To which Stein said: “Just be sure you arrest me first. We’ll be sure there are lots and lots and lots of cameras around so the world can see it.”
Picturing this (and no doubt consulting with his party strategists), the governor backed down. He was already feeling enough heat as election officials undermined his claims. Throwing Stein in jail would be the stupidest thing he could do.
So that obstacle was overcome.
Stein had been prepared, too. Hundreds of toilet cubes were brought to the park. Hotel rooms were procured for the sick and the elderly. Food distribution began.
And then there was the green.
During the rally, I’d seen them here or there—green flags and green banners, wordless and bright. As the sun dipped into the horizon, more of them started to appear, glowing in the dark. Vigilant in their vigil. Keeping watch over us all.
I didn’t know who was handing them out until a kid came over to us with an armful, weighed down but proudly marching around, letting us take as many as we wanted for the night and possible days ahead.
As Virgil gathered us around, the sky still had some remnants of light in it, and the green material had yet to fully illuminate itself.
“A decision has to be made,” he said. “You’re all going to have to be honest with me, since we’re in new territory here. None of you signed on to this for as long as it takes—you all were expecting to be home late tomorrow or, at the very latest, early Tuesday. Some of you have school. Others of you have jobs. Some of you have just joined us and may have places you need to be. We only have one bus, so we have to make this decision very carefully. We don’t know how long this will go or what’s going to happen. For all we know, the President might send in the National Guard tomorrow to get us all out of here. Or some of the Decent locals might take it in their own heads to make us leave. We have sleeping bags and some food in the bus, but we don’t have showers or that many toilets or any of what you’d call the creature comforts. We’re not going to be partying like it’s 1999—this is serious business. And if any one of you needs or wants to go, then we’ll head back home and protest in Trenton instead. Now, what are people thinking?”
I couldn’t imagine leaving. Not now, not from this. It would be like leaving the center of the universe. It would be abandoning a chance at being part of something big.
Nobody wanted to speak first—for fear, I think, of intimidating anyone who wanted to go.
Finally, it was Elwood who said, “Well, we have to stay, don’t we?”
Everyone else immediately chimed in. Virgil called Sara, who polled the other people from the bus.
It was unanimous: We were staying.
Calls were made to parents. Mine were not happy, to say the least. But they also realized there was no way to make me come back.
Jimmy’s parents, on the other hand, were thrilled. As we both knew they would be.
Suddenly I realized what our decision meant: Tomorrow was Jimmy’s birthday, and it was going to be spent here, in Topeka. I wondered if he thought I’d forgotten, since I hadn’t mentioned it all day. I decided not to bring it up and to think of some way to surprise him.
Virgil asked for volunteers to go back to the bus to retrieve supplies.
“Why don’t you stay here with Elwood, and I’ll get our stuff,” I offered to Jimmy, thinking this would be the perfect opportunity to concoct a birthday plan.
Jimmy asked me if I was sure I didn’t want him to come, but then Janna jumped in and said she’d go with me. Mandy made it sound like she really needed Jimmy to stay back and hang with her. So he said he’d stay.
Mira and Keisha both volunteered to go to the bus. Then, when they realized this, they both backed out.
“This is silly,” Keisha said.
“Tell me about it,” Mira replied.
It was the first time they’d talked to each other since “the incident.” If you could really call it talking.
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