2016-07-14 / Opinion


Here's What Matters

Disbelief. Hurt. Grieving. One woman said she was “heartbroken.” What we saw and heard last Saturday afternoon at Washington Square, however, when hundreds gathered for what was announced as a “peaceful assembly” was something more akin to solidarity and respect. What we encountered was gratitude, for those who had gathered, and a measured amount of hope – defiant hope. But certainly not hopelessness.

And one other thing: There were no angry people. Sad and overwhelmed, but no scorching anger.

This is not to gloss over the ugly and tragic circumstances that brought it about. Newport, size-wise, is not what one would call a sprawling city. But socioeconomically, it sprawls. We know from Marilyn Warren, executive director at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, that one in seven people in Rhode Island needs food assistance. Last year, the MLK Center served 223,617 meals. Within walking distance of that kitchen, restaurants are serving $70 entrees to summer tourists and residents alike.

Yet between the people who came to talk, such as parents and educators, and those who came to listen, we sensed an element of solidarity and respect.

It’s important for us, as a community, to ask why. In the asking, we might find some answers.

Kudos to Newport police who came, mingled, spoke to friends, parents and children. More than one child’s hand-lettered, declarative sign was admired. A friend who was observing the mix of people and emotions on Saturday commented that people were relaxed because they don’t see Newport police as a threat. “It’s easy to say that Newport is small and wealthy” she said, “but we have the highest percentage of public housing in the state, almost 20 percent of our population. Peaceful protests don’t get much national attention, but perhaps our country is overlooking answers by ignoring communities without police tensions."

In the midst of the assembly, cars were drawn to a standstill in Washington Square as the peaceful protesters, with police escorts, embarked on the “Never Forget, Never Here” march, a short loop around the block. Drivers on America’s Cup Avenue, forced to sit idling in their cars, gave victory beeps as they leaned out their windows to give a thumb’s up. Again, no angry people; just those in agreement – even from a gleaming white stretch limousine.

Back again on Washington Square, one woman honked, leaned her head out the window, and called, “If I wasn’t stuck in this traffic jam, I’d be out there marching with you!”

Defiant hope, in the face of what has become the fabric of our lives here, and everywhere.

We saw a part of Newport on Saturday – in its police, organizers, participants, people stuck in traffic – that gave us all something to be proud of.

And for that, in the midst of the turmoil and uncertainty and self-questioning, we are grateful.

As a community, it should be our deepest, fervent hope – and goal – that we keep moving in that direction.

Return to top