I originally intended to share lighthearted stories from my vacation with you today—the historic sights, baseball stadiums, and savory foods we sampled—but that plan changed on Wednesday afternoon as I sat on a white plastic folding chair in the rain in Washington, DC.
On our final day on the East Coast, Dad scheduled a barrage of meetings from 7 am until 6 pm. I knew that the Department of Energy (DOE) wouldn’t invite me too, so I poked around the internet, checking the Capitol Mall tour bus schedules to maximize my sightseeing opportunities. In the chaos of the trip, I completely forgot the date—August 28—and that the entire district was essentially shut down for the 50th anniversary celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
So in a very anti-Amy-the-introvert fashion, I hustled from our hotel to Union Station with the masses and hopped on the Metro for 6 stops. I arrived at the Foggy Bottom station a little before 1 pm, turned the wrong way at the exit, and eventually circled back around to head the proper direction toward the Lincoln Memorial.
Once I reached the chain-link fence separating the public from the gala, I started scanning the streets for some stone steps or a park bench to people-watch and strain to hear the speeches. I spotted event officials passing out the last of their free purple bookmarks through the holes in the wire, and I politely took one as a memento instead of shelling out $10 for a t-shirt. I stared at it for a minute, then back at the woman’s empty hands.
It was a ticket in.
And not just any ticket. A ticket to the VIP section directly in front of the podium. (As I arrived late, the section was already full, but I still snagged a “B-List” seat just behind those celebrities!)
So in my tank top and cutoff denim shorts, I sat through the constant drizzle alongside everyone else in the section dressed in fancy business attire, soaking in the encouraging and inspiring words of Oprah, Jamie Foxx, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King III, and President Obama himself.
And while they preached, proclaimed, and emphasized equality for all, they failed to fully grasp the meaning of the movement. They described the fight, the gains and losses, the earning and winning, the steps and measures required for each generation. They called it equality and freedom, but it’s deeper than that.
It’s about love and respect.
Those two things can’t be fought for or won. They aren’t earned or awarded. Love and respect, true love and respect, are a gift from one person to another. They’re unconditional and given without any expectations or requirements in return.
By naming this struggle a “fight,” the distinguished speakers implied the existence of two separate groups, divided over a single issue. A victim and an oppressor. An “us” versus a “them.” And in this same vein, somebody must win, and somebody must lose.
But do you really lose anything by loving another person unconditionally? Or by respecting that person unfailingly?
Love and respect break down the barrier dividing the two different groups. They erase the fears associated with freedom and equality—of not having enough, of not being treated as well, of not measuring up—the fears rooted in our heads.
This movement is really about what’s in our hearts.
Because freedom and equality are quantities that can be measured with concrete examples: I can publish these thoughts about the movement (freedom) or my lesbian college roommate can get married (equality). But love and respect can never be measured, only felt in our hearts.
The speakers asked for the concrete, but what we wanted was the abstract. The feelings. The love.
And when the struggle resolves, and when the movement runs its course, there won’t be a winner and a loser, like at the end of a fight. There will simply be a “we,” with unconditional love and unfailing respect given to all people.