“I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry now that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there’s still time.”

–W. S. Merwin

This man has not cut his hair since 1981, when the protest began.

This man has not cut his hair since 1981, when the protest in front of the White House began.

Last week’s post was about the spontaneous decision to drive to Washington, DC, for a short visit.

While there, I followed another “gut feeling” and went back to Lafayette Park across from the White House, where we had taken our picture the day before.

I wanted to chat with the man above, one of many activist volunteers who have kept a 24-hour vigil for peace going for more than 30 years.

This man has seen every president since Jimmy Carter come and go. A few of those presidents have actually talked with him. Bill Clinton engaged the protesters eighteen times.

The signs and the tent in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.

The signs and the tent in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.

I came home from the DC trip and returned to my “box in the basement” project —

reviewing and organizing our personal slide collection.

Soon I was looking at slides that stirred old memories of DC.

In the late sixties and early seventies, millions of people were protesting war.

Stuart and I joined them on May 9, 1970, when 100,00 people, mostly students, drove to the National Mall to register their strong disagreement after the decision to invade Cambodia and their anger about the death of four students at Kent State University.

I remember rumors that this demonstration could turn violent and conversations with my friends about how to maintain nonviolent commitment even if others did not.

It was a tense time. We decided to go.

As we drove on I-66 toward Washington, we passed other cars headed the same way and flashed peace signs of solidarity with them.

When we arrived, here’s how we saw the White House.

Journalists, police, Red Cross, and protesters all mixing in a stew of unrest.

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The White House as seen from the Ellipse, May 9, 1970.

We listened, watched, chanted, and talked, adding our Mennonite voices to a swelling chorus of many others.

The day was very hot. So many students found relief in the fountains and reflecting pool.

We took pictures while others stripped off shirts and jumped in.

We took pictures while others stripped off shirts and jumped in.

My biggest act of nonconformity that day was to wear a white sundress instead of the student “uniform” of jeans and boots and blue denim shirts.

Can you spot me?

Enjoying the coolness of my homemade dress on a hot day.

Enjoying the coolness of my homemade dress on a hot day. Swimming upstream in the crowd.

We learned after the fact that President Richard Nixon had gotten up early and asked his valet and the Secret Service to drive him to the Lincoln Memorial so that he could talk with the students.

We would have been driving toward the capital during those early morning hours. Nixon later reflected on what has been called his “weirdest day in the White House.”

He was a tragic figure already, trying to be understood by the protesters,

recalling his Quaker past, telling them in his youth he too was

“the closest thing to a pacifist there is.”

The news this week is full of threatening triumphs of the Taliban and Isis and an unstoppable tide of refugees.

Everyone wants peace, but all seem incapable of making peace.

Outside the White House sits a lone protester with his signs.

Inside the White House, another president broods, unable to bring peace.

I’m still protesting against war, knowing it is hopeless. Like the poet W.S. Merwin in the quote above, I ground my hope in what and who I love.

Even more than that, I ground my hope in Love itself and in the “perfect love that casts out fear.”

Where do you go for hope when you are tempted toward hopelessness?

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