Women wearing the hijab, chanting while sending smiles to fellow mothers pushing strollers. A man wrapped in a Pride flag offering memorial ribbons to crowds that will later be rallied by a boy sporting the American flag. Union members cheering into megaphones; five-year-olds coloring their first protest signs on the floor of a nightclub; a shy dog howling with the crowd crying for justice.
Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.
Sunday morning, I had the wonderful honor of walking alongside over one thousand fellow Orlando residents expressing their deep sorrow and outrage at the latest executive order banning incoming travelers from Muslim-majority nations. The rally at the Orlando International Airport (MCO) was especially effective at illustrating that our community, which suffered such a blow June 12th of last summer at Pulse nightclub, will not be blindly led into prejudice against any group—racial, ethnic, religious, orientated, abled, or otherwise.
Organizers made sure to note that all who showed were not protesters, but “protectors” of their brothers and sisters. This spirit of group accountability and trust was tangible at MCO on Sunday. At a loss after the massacre that occurred a few minutes’ drive from my high school, I attended—alone—my first rally for peace put on by the local mosque leaders in Orlando, and saw the LGBTQ+ and Islamic communities stand together in solidarity, creating a permanent bond that arose again last weekend as strangers from complete different walks of life packed themselves into the airport terminal so that the world might notice their inseparability.
Even more surprising was the reaction from Orlando Police Department officers, who surrounded our caravan as we walked the property. As I passed them on my way out with the rest of the mob, I tried to offer a “thank you” for these men and women who gave up a Sunday afternoon to look after people campaigning for equality, and most of them met my gratitude with genuine smiles and restrained-but-evident pride in the City Beautiful. Travelers, too, stopped at the curb to raise their voices. The only opposition our mob of activists met in our entire journey were a few faces waiting for their next flight, trying to avoid our gazes—and these people, unlike the hundreds of protectors surrounding me, remained silent.
Show me what America looks like. This is what America looks like.
The “silent majority” seem more and more to me to be a silent few—people who would rather be well-off and alone, afraid to stir the pot or look over the horizon. Sitting passive and being pelted by news of ludicrous executive orders and messages of hatred and fear can make those of us who believe that justice always wins a little tired, and a little complacent.
But on days like Sunday, when I go to lift others up in some place so familiar and close to home, I am reminded that the furthest, best, and most rewarding journey is not taken on a plane but by following the footsteps of those who have gone before you—leaving your trail for those who will follow—on the oft-shared and open-hearted road to equality.