Why We Had To Dance After Charlottesville

It’s been such a devastating time.  It seems like every day, there’s some new bit of horrific news.

But when Charlottesville happened, it was different.  Or, at least, a deeper level of devastating.  A reminder that we as a country are headed to the brink.  A reminder that the hate we feared would be unleashed has truly come out in pride, in strength, and with murderous intent.

And for those of us who have been angry, fearful, and disturbed by all Trump has wrought, the moment shook us to the core.  The Nazi flags out in public.  The poor, beaten young counter-protestor.  Heather.  All the injured.

It was all too much.  Comedians on Twitter saying they were spending the night crying.  Friends commenting in private anti-Trump groups that they are planning to take self-defense classes.

So much fear.  So much pain.  And this is only the beginning of all this.

And so, I suppose that’s what propelled so many of us into the streets yesterday.  Trump was making his homecoming to his real home, a home he literally named after himself.  Trump Tower.

I remember when I first arrived.  I got there right when it started (I didn’t know you were supposed to come fashionably late to protests!), and I looked around… maybe only one hundred people there.  Scattered voices in the wind.  Seemed like there were more tourists and commuters trying to get through the sidewalk than actual protestors.

But something kept me there.  Almost like a force that had pushed me after the events in Charlottesville, the energy in me needed to be dispersed in some way, needed to be put into productive effect, needed to be given life.

If that was all there was, then I was worried that those who had previously marched had truly lost their steam.  Maybe we were the ADD generation.  But at that moment, I didn’t care.  I just had to be there.  In front of Trump’s house.  Holding him responsible for what he’s brought into the world.  For his silence after it all.

And to be a Jew with a kippah there.  A few days after Nazis walked the streets of America and committed a terrorist attack, I had to, I had to show the world that Jews, orthodox Jews even, stand against it all.  Are willing to sacrifice for the safety of minorities just as much as their own safety.

But, mostly, it was for me.  For that energy in me.

And then… the group started to build.  Slowly, then suddenly.  All of a sudden, I realized I was stuck at the front of a massive group of people on the corner of the street across from Trump Tower.  I couldn’t move, or I’d run into the police who were holding us back, or the protestors behind me.

The chanting was no longer scattered and off-beat.  It became a rhythmic dance of voices. Up.  Down.  Up.  Down.  Like breathing.

Then I heard the sound of a drum.  It was right next to me.  A man had come up next to me with a snare drum, playing a marching rhythm.

And we were off, our energy pulsating higher and higher.  The music matched with our chanting combining to create a power I had never felt before.

And because I was in the front, I couldn’t see how the crowd was growing, but part of me was aware of it.  Part of me knew we were swelling.  All those voices, it was impossible to deny it.

And just as I could feel our voices grow, I could feel the pain we were all letting out.  This was not an ordinary protest.  It was a group of people, growing ever-larger, that had been carrying the pain of the past week in their chests, feeling powerless, and who now finally felt they had a voice.  I could feel it, this need to speak and speak, whether we were heard or not.

Then I heard a *boom*.  *BOOM*, more like.

I looked over.  A young woman beating a bass drum was standing right next to the snare drummer, and the *BOOM* of it echoed through Fifth Avenue.  Right into Trump Tower, I’m sure.

*snippity* *snap* *snap* *BOOM* went the snare drum and the bass drum together.

And to match the noise of the music, to still have our voices heard over it, we had to start yelling, we had to start releasing our voices with strength, with volume.  Up until then, we had still been timid.  Suddenly, we were released.  And we unleashed our yells into the world.

The yells… they weren’t just about Trump.  Or “No KKK, No Fascist USA” or all of that.  It was also about letting out Charlottesville into the streets, letting it out in a way that wasn’t destructive but uniting.  That brought us solace, that brought us together.  That made sure the world would hear.

We didn’t know it, but “Trump Tower” was already trending on Twitter and making headlines.  Our voices were shaking up more than we knew.

Then the protest was moved. I learned later that it was because someone had been arrested and they were moving us for being disorderly.  But at the time, it was just a migration.  We went across the street to another area.  And the music kept playing.

I found myself following the drums.  I had realized that I was dancing now, even though I wasn’t planning to, it just felt right, just felt good, just felt needed.

And as we congregated across the street, a young man in a kippah joined us.  He was carrying a trumpet.  He started playing.  It wasn’t a beat anymore, it was a band.

And slowly, more and more dancers and musicians joined.  A woman with a cowbell.  Another man with a trumpet.  A clarinet.

And soon, the chants around us turned into songs instead of repetitive yells.  The same chants as before, but now set to the music, melding with it, combining with it.

An older hippie lady joined us and started dancing with abandon, and we were officially off, in another world, part of a unified transcendent voice reaching into the heavens if not into Trump Tower.

It’s hard to describe because I think to outsiders it may have looked like a party.  Or a celebration.

But it wasn’t that.  It was more an expression of pain.  A need to connect with those in the same pain, but in a way that wasn’t just about mourning, but giving ourselves hope.  Seeing that there could be a better future.  Wishing that this was the norm, that people of all races and religions and points of view could come together and just dance, and just live, and just stand up for what’s right without feeling like that’s some sort of crazy thing.

Soon, the police couldn’t hold all the people anymore, and we were finally let into the streets, and I looked around and realized that Fifth Avenue was filled.  It wasn’t a hundred anymore.  Wasn’t even a thousand.  It was thousands. As far as I could see down the street.  I wanted to cry.

But instead I just danced harder.  Just let out all that I had been experiencing since the election, let it out onto the pavement and into the air with my voice.

A group had formed now.  Dancers surrounding the musicians.  Young women of the new activist guard joining the old guard, a number of older women who were on their feet for hours, more energy than all of us.  A larger group around them, getting more and more into the music, as if it was spreading, as if somehow it was getting louder even though that made no sense.

And we were rising in a crescendo, you could feel it, you could feel it.  We were going higher, higher, higher.  Louder, louder.  The crashing of the drums, the yell of the trumpets, the squee of the clarinet.  The chants getting louder and louder.  Somehow even louder than the music, it all made no sense, it all made no sense, it was so beautiful, it was so beautiful.

And then it hit its highest point, and it felt like, from where I was, that the whole street was dancing together, although I have no way of knowing.  But it was a moment of unity that I could feel.  Even if the ones not dancing were part of it, were joining it.  For a brief moment, this group of thousands that was separated by cross streets and police and horses and huge trucks ready to throw them in in case they got violent, this group was united behind the music.

And we were all dancing, all dancing.  And Charlottesville was still in us, was still moving us, but we were finally also moving it.  Finally turning it into something that mattered, if only to us, if only to us, but to more, we had no doubt.

Then the music slowed, slowed, and stopped.  The band had ended their jam.

And the crowd erupted.  Everyone, it felt like, cheering at the top of their lungs.  For more than a minute, this eruption, out of the ground.  Out of our souls.  Into the air and loud enough to shake the tower.

But not a cheer like a concert.  More like a wake, more like a battle, more like a victory.  Anything that would really be about releasing pain through united joy.

Charlottesville… we were yelling in pain over it, over our fear of it, over our determination to do something with all of that.  And even though we knew it wasn’t enough on its own, in that moment we just needed it.

 

The feeling of leaving that protest was surprising to me.  I didn’t feel inspired, really.  In fact, I felt a darkness grow in me.  Whatever happened there was beautiful and inspirational and important, but it was in a response to a deep, growing darkness.  It was in front of the home of the darkest man on earth.  It was about something larger.  A deeper, more intense fight.  One where the dancing helped remind us that we were together, not alone, united.  That we could change things, that we were changing things.  But also that it was happening because of the growing darkness around us.

 

As I took the train home, I tweeted out a video of the dancing, sharing the story of how people had yelled at the top of their lungs at the end, and describing the spirituality of it all.

And it was incredible to see the tweet go viral, my most popular tweet ever.  People saying that they wished they were in NYC for it.  That this finally gave them hope after a dreadful week (amazing that they could feel what we felt at the march through the internet).  That it was lit (my gosh, I loved that).

And then.  A few hours later.  Mike Cernovich retweeted it, the alt-right enemy of anything good in the world with 300,000 followers.  And suddenly, a flood of hate flowed towards me, towards the people in the video, towards everyone anywhere who looked differently or acted differently than the people the mob deemed appropriate.

The antisemitism came like a nonstop flow.  The mocking of the women’s looks, how “weird” everyone was, how “this is why we voted for Trump.”

It was hard.  Painful.  But important.

A reminder that we were out in the streets for a reason.  That it was not just Charlottesville that had brought us there.  It was about that darkness, that larger darkness.  The extremism growing.  The hate.

And while I watched as they overran it like the army of hate that helped get Trump into office, I rewatched the video.  Now refocused.  Re-dedicated.  No, the dance was not enough, it was not enough, as gloriously transcendent as it was.

It was our stake in the ground declaring that we will not stop fighting.  That we will not be moved, changed, scared by the mob that hides behind keyboards or runs over innocent women.

We will be here, always.  Fighting for what’s right.

Even if that means sometimes we need to dance.