“By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.“- Hebrews 11:30
This passage in Hebrews is a short summary of Joshua 6:1-27: the story of Joshua leading an army after God gave him the military strategy of marching around the city of Jericho once a day for seven days, and then yelling as loud as they can. The end result: the walls of Jericho fell down. The symbol of imprisonment, dictatorship, and claustrophobic fear crumbled.
We await the civil rights movie “Selma,” and have heard much of the March on Washington, but few know the name of James Meredith, who in 1966 planned a 220-mile solo march called the “March Against Fear” to address racism and register black voters. The second day of his march, he was shot in the leg and the back. The result: others stepped to complete what he started, and over 4,000 people were registered to vote.
Marching is often criticized as an ineffective means of change. But history has shown us that we all are beneficiaries of people who hit the pavement in pursuit of a more just society. Power is only dismantled through disruptions, and in this moment in our modern day Jericho, where we are challenged with the question of whether black lives do, in fact, matter, I offer these seven reasons why marching is good for the soul:
1. Marching redefines “leadership.” When I was in Ferguson, I was in the back of a large crowd in the neighborhood of Shaw Park. I could not see, at first, who was yelling out the chants–so loud, I thought they had a megaphone. They didn’t. I was moved because these young people didn’t need permission to march, acceptance to march, or an applause for marching. Their formidable strength assured me that if ANYTHING happened, they would have our backs. I was proud to be there that night.
2. Marching builds your stamina. In a world where the longest walk for some is rushing to their car to get to work, marching takes a toll on your body. Even as militant as I am, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have thoughts at least once as to the effectiveness of my marching. Is this worth it? How long will this be? Why are we doing this? Where are we going? And what I learned is that marching, like God, is NOT afraid of those questions being asked. And in that spiritual space of fluid unity, marching gives you time to answer those questions. Is it worth it?–YES. How long will this be?–AS LONG AS IT NEEDS TO BE. Why are we doing this?–IT WILL MAKE MORE SENSE LATER ON. Where are you going–FORWARD.
3. Marching fosters fellowship. Marching defies the regular notion of “friends” and even “family.” With so many distractions, from reality tv to Monday Night Football, when you stand as one in a crowd, you recognize that like others, this was a choice. No one was forced. Everyone WANTS to be there. And thus the beauty of injustice: the more it seeks to divide, it unites. And strangers becomes fellows. In that moment, we are each other’s keeper.
4. Marching always invites the adversary. While blocking one of the roads in Missouri, I was overwhelmed. By the headlights from the cars flashing in our eyes. By the lines of vehicles building up all around us. By the stillness of time, as our elbows stayed locked up for 4 1/2 minutes–one minute for each hour Michael Brown laid out in the street after being gunned down by Officer Darren Wilson. Honks of supporters…with the exception of one white pickup truck full of white men, each one sticking his head out a window. Screams of “it’s yall niggers fault” “get the f*** out the way””yall niggers deserve it” were hurled at us. For a second, I thought they were going to reverse their truck right into our bodies. But the elbow I was attached to got stronger. A barely 5ft, elderly white lady, with an orange jacket that said CLERGY, said nothing, but stood confidently and unmoved. Even as I tried to give myself a little room just in case they did in fact reverse and hit us, she would not let me. In that moment, I felt the true definition of “come what may.”
5. Marching leaves one vulnerable. When one marches, it’s like running outside without your house keys. You don’t know how you are going to come back, or if you can get back in even if you do. May I suggest that you welcome that: embrace the uncertainty, and recognize that in the bag of uncertainty is also the possibility of progress. Trust the moment, and that without your march, the movement may not continue. The movement cannot be won without you.
6. Marching ain’t nothing without a little shout! There are misconceptions about “peaceful demonstrations.” What society wants is for us to march quietly, and softly like cotton. We can’t give you what you want. You will be reminded through our feet and with our mouths that the status quo of the respectable negro is no more. Marching allows your voice to carry in a way Twitter and Facebook cannot do. Marching and shouting enters spaces where people try to hide and avoid conflict. We are not here to make you comfortable. We are hear to be heard.
7. Marching extends the life of those gone too soon. Even if you do not believe in the power of marching, do it because one of our own will never, ever, be able to march again. They are not forgotten.