The sign held by the man near the playground in Lincoln Park stood out even among the day’s wide variety of slogans, posters, T-shirts and banners: “Montanans for Kindness,” read his folded-out pizza box (extra large, I’d guess) in bright Crayon colors.
Turns out this Montanan had been standing there for something like two hours, cheering on the thousands and thousands of people from across the country who were crossing the park. For about another hour I stood there with him, chatting a bit, but mostly watching the passing parade of people marching from the immigration reform rally on the National Mall to RFK Stadium, where their buses waited to take them home.
Participants were of all ages, but a majority were probably under 35. Nuns and priests, ministers and rabbis walked with their people. Many, many families pushed strollers. A handful pushed wheelchairs. Some people stopped to rest for a few minutes on the park benches. Families paused to let the kids climb around on the playground equipment for a bit.
They carried American flags and flags from their home countries. Here and there, someone using a five-gallon bucket as a drum would keep a rhythm for chants of “Si, se puede,” or “Yes, we can.” People sitting outside homes they passed on East Capitol Street would wave and join in the cheering. Some raised their wine glasses in a toast. The mood was optimistic and upbeat.
The walkers passed unknowingly through this park named for Abraham Lincoln, with its memorial to the Emancipation Proclamation. Most walked past the giant statue of civil rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune without realizing the parallels between her work and their goals.
“Mr. Montana,” a community organizer, explained that he’d encountered the immigration marchers as he returned from participating in a rally at the Capitol in support of the health care reform bill. As he headed to where he was staying near Lincoln Park, people from the immigration rally had started to walk toward the stadium, about three miles from the Mall.
“I thought, ‘This isn’t very many people,'” he said, and decided to go back out and cheer them on. Turns out that at 3:30 he’d only seen the leading edge of people from the immigration event. The majority didn’t even start walking from the Mall until 5 p.m., by which time tens of thousands had already set out, making their way through this historic park and past the Montanan with his cheery pizza box sign.
People who noticed the “Montanans for Kindness” sign smiled, waved, thanked him for his sign and his support. He grinned and waved, and echoed every chorus of “Si, se puede.”
In the third hour of the procession, with no end in sight of the swarms of people coming up over the hill, he grinned some more. “This has made my day, my week, my decade,” he said. “This is great.”