It was a cold and snowy day. Temperatures in St. Paul, Minnesota were hovering just above zero, which was enough to make all my extremities numb even before my mother and I completed the walk from our cars to the capitol building. But still, I gripped my rally sign as best I could, the word “LOVE” jumping off its bright yellow background amidst a sea of protesters dressed red and white in support of the people of Wisconsin.
It was oddly intimidating to be the only person at the rally visibly representing the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. I saw other signs held high, proclaiming “Hitler Outlawed Unions, Too!” or “Stop the War on Workers!” or “No Tea For Me! Say No to Fear and Hate!” These were all worthy messages. But the words that jumped out at me were: Hitler, War, Fear, Hate, Stop, No. Where were the signs that used the language of love? I held my sign against my chest, feeling a bit self-conscious.
Then a girl walking past me paused and smiled over her scarf. “Hey! I like your sign!” Before I could speak, she disappeared into the crowd.
This was all the encouragement I needed. I climbed up onto a snowbank alongside a woman with a muppet on her arm and a man with an American flag, and I held that bright yellow Love sign high over my head.
The language we choose to use when we craft our messages is important. The words we put on our signs, on our shirts, on our banners—people remember the big words, the strong words, the bold words. And these words craft two messages. One is the overt message (such as the signs I quoted above). But the other message is more subtle; it is crafted from the cultural context of the words we use. What message do we send when our signs use words like Hitler, War, Hate, Fear? They startle people, certainly, and they inspire a strong reaction. But couldn’t we also inspire a strong reaction by using the language of love instead?
There was a tap on my arm, and a familiar laugh, and I turned to find my seminary friend standing behind me in the crowd. After a delighted and astonished hug, I asked how she’d managed to see me in this crowd of people.
“Easy,” she said. “I saw that sign, and I knew it had to be you!”
It had to be me. I can’t remember receiving a higher compliment.
As the rally ended and the crowds began thinning, another person caught my attention by calling out to me, “You must be a Unitarian Universalist!” By this point, I knew better than to ask what had given me away. The woman came over and said hello to our little group, explaining that she was a member of the UU congregation in Madison and had come out to the Twin Cities to visit family. Before she left, I made sure to get a picture of the four of us with the Love sign in front of the capitol building.
As we were talking, a woman from Minnesota Public Radio came over and asked if she could interview us for some soundbites she could use in her newscast. I have no idea whether mine were used or not—I was still at the capitol when her segment would have aired—but she asked me why I had shown up in this miserably cold and inhospitable weather. And so I told her:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr. said that, and he was absolutely right. When an unjust law is threatening people’s well-being, that injustice isn’t paying attention to what the weather is doing. Whether the injustice is happening in Wisconsin, or Minnesota, or Arizona, or anywhere in between, it has to be stopped when and where it starts. And if that means I have to be standing out here in zero-degree temperatures getting covered in snow, then that’s where I’m going to be: standing on the side of love wherever I am needed to make sure that there is a voice of compassion present in the face of oppression.
Did it really come out that gracefully? Probably not; I was paying quite a bit of attention to the fact that I couldn’t feel my lips. But that was what I wanted to say to her. I hope it came out even half that well.
I later had the pleasure of meeting another Unitarian Universalist from a congregation here in the Twin Cities, and I also ran into one of my friends from my drumming circle. It’s eerie how interconnected one’s circles become when one begins to live a life committed to action.
We had to go up into the capitol building to warm up before making the trek back to our cars. While my friend and I were rubbing warmth back into our feet, a man walking by saw my sign.
He paused and looked at me. “Does that mean…what I think it means?”
I looked down at my sign: Standing on the Side of Love. How could it mean anything but what it means? So I said, “Yes.”
“Can I take a picture of you two with that sign?” He held up his iPhone.
So my friend and I posed with smiles for his picture, and he thanked us and went on his way. But then I paused. What did he think the sign had meant?
I turned to my friend. “I think that man thought we were lesbians.”
We blinked at each other for a moment, and then she shrugged and laughed, “Well, it’s all in the name of a good cause!”
Because, really, there is only one cause: Love one another. How much more complicated does it need to be?