Solvitur Ambulando – It is Solved by Walking.
By Mary Margaret
It seems people have been walking for a cause more than usual of late in the United States. On the day after the presidential inauguration, droves of women and their allies “marched for America” in cities across the country (and women across the globe –in Africa, Arabia, Asia, Australia, Central America, Europe, and South America—marched in solidarity). Rivers of the now iconic pink hats flowed through the streets. People of every age, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and ability came out to be a part of it all. More recently, marchers for science carried signs celebrating evidence and breakthroughs like penicillin and the polio vaccine. Marchers for the climate have drawn attention to environmental devastation. And today, May 1st, the International Day for Workers, people are marching and engaging in direct action on justice for immigrants and workers. To be sure, these marches for gender equality, investment in the scientific enterprise, justice for immigrants, and environmental protections have included protests against the policy proposals and executive actions of President Trump during the first 100 days of his administration.
Marching has played an important role in many social movements. A January 2017 piece by Julie Turkewitz in the NY Times highlighted the 1913 Women’s March for Suffrage, the 1932 Bonus Army March, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered, a 1969 march to end the war in Vietnam, the annual March for Life, Marches for LGBTQ rights beginning in the 1980’s, and the 1995 Million Man March. Marches increase visibility. They disrupt business as usual. They provide an avenue for political involvement and participation in the common good. They involve risk to participants that demands the courage to keep going in spite of fear.
Many also come out to walk, run, and bike for all sorts of charitable organizations. And, since “sitting” has become the new “smoking” in terms of the impacts of a sedentary lifestyle on health and well-being, walking for a cause or not has benefits for physical and mental health. The “walking meeting” is all the rage and there is a new market for “executive treadmill desks” (as if life doesn’t feel enough like a spinning hamster wheel). The pedometers on our smartphones or wrists coach us to “get our steps in.” But this kind of exercise has little semblance to Thoreau’s meditation on walking in which one saunters and meanders along, open to a new adventure in nature, or to Mary Oliver’s invitation to “walk slowly, and bow often” among the trees.
Critics have asked whether the marches are marking the beginning of a sustained social movement or whether they will simply “fizzle” out after the buoyancy of the moment. Perhaps the proliferation of marches and charity walks will suffer diminishing returns and fail to link causes together in solidarity. While the pink hats and t-shirts might prove “I was there,” where do we walk to next, with whom, and why?
This moment in time is a walking and a marching time, for restorative purpose and solidarity. Moving about can relieve anxiety and mitigate the effects of fatigue that can be physical, emotional, and spiritual. Many of us have need to “shake off the village” as Thoreau would say, taking time away from the stresses in life and fears about the direction the U.S. is taking. The events of these last few months have suggested also that we need to walk in and with the village. People are walking and marching not only to make public statements about their commitments to issues and fidelity to persons, they are marching also to overcome feelings of isolation. They march to reconfirm for themselves that they are not alone in their fears, frustrations, and angers on the one hand, nor alone in their passions for justice and peace on the other. This kind of walking too brings consolations.
Will the challenges and injustices of our time be solved by walking and marching? Probably not, but they won’t be solved without them. And we Christians, pilgrim people on the way, must keep marching and working for justice. Jesus bowed often and he was a man on the move with purpose and solidarity. Though the disciples practically tripped over themselves to keep up, they too marched. Even as Aquinas cautioned, “to stand still is to go backwards,” Christians resist the frenetic pace of competition that isolates us and opt instead for a shared journey with those who are vulnerable and marginalized. When the saints come marching in, “I want to be in that number.”