If you sit on the left side in the elevated train from New Jersey to Philadelphia, there's one place where you can look out the window and see the skyline of Philly all arrayed just two or three miles away. On a day when the sky is clear, it's a sight -- not Manhattan, but a vast, gleaming city nevertheless.
Growing up in the mountains, I never, ever expected to spend most of my life a stone's throw from Philadelphia. But as I looked out of the train on Saturday morning, I couldn't help but feel grateful for the opportunity to become a citizen of the Great Blue Northeast. I even teared up a little bit. Sheesh. I'm a sentimental slob.
When I was young I thought the government taxes were too high, and I thought that through hard work and bootstraps and all that, anyone could become rich and successful. Moving to the city (first Baltimore, then Detroit, then Philadelphia) changed my worldview. Perhaps if I had stayed in Appalachia I would be like so many people living there now: conservative to a point where they don't even vote in their own best interests.
Instead, I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia. So on Saturday, January 20 (a day that will live in infamy), I got on the el with my tambourine and my fairy sweater and my Pagan jewelry, and I rode into Center City, Philadelphia. There were lots of other suburban white women on the train, even though I went in two hours early. Lest anyone sneer at suburban white women, please remember that we are a demographic that gets courted by politicians of every stripe. It's up to us to do the right thing, which is never a given.
I disembarked the train at 13th and Locust and got myself a breakfast sandwich at a little cafe called Jean's on Walnut Street. Then I walked around City Hall, in the opposite direction that I had come on New Year's Day with the Mummers, and walked down to Logan Square, across from the Free Library of Philadelphia (where Gumby works! I'm proud of her.) I had learned that a group called Drum Like a Lady would be forming at the fountain, and I wanted to get there before it got too crowded to see if I could find the drummers.
It's easy to find drummers. Have you ever noticed? They give themselves away. And in this case, the leader of Drum Like a Lady is not only an accomplished drummer, she's almost a goddess in human form -- tall, beautiful, vigorous even in a leg brace, and ready to do some upbeat leadership.
I joined the circle just as it began to gear up, and what a phenomenal experience it turned out to be. These lady leaders knew what they were doing. They had designated one person as the heartbeat (more circles should try this ... it's the essential piece so often missing). Drawing on the heartbeat, all sorts of women with all kinds of percussion were able to play along. I think we had it all, except for those hella heavy djembes and dun duns. I'd thought about taking my doumbek, but the tambourine turned out better, because occasionally I danced -- and the tambourine can keep an easy beat and fill in some spaces.
When we lady drummers got our groove going, we were sending energy to the sky. It was a very multi-racial and multicultural group, all in happy harmony. The leader, LaTreice Branson, took turns addressing the crowd through a bullhorn and playing a small djembe.
The crowd got thicker and thicker, pushing our circle in on itself. Only once did I have to ask a tall, young white boy to take his camera elsewhere when he pushed in front of me to get photos. Mmm mmm, yeah, they are always around. But at least he did as I asked.
As I said, the drum circle's diversity was awesome. No one would have mistaken me for anything but a Pagan in my fairy sweater, with my acorn necklace dangling. There might have been one or two other Pagan women there, judging simply by attire and hair. Readers, we all sounded great. And we drummed for two and a half hours.
We led the march (sort of), but in the throng we kind of got spread out a bit. All of a sudden I felt a tug on my elbow, and there was Gumby, grinning from ear to ear! We hugged, and I hugged Gumby's boyfriend (I really like him), but I had to move on to keep up with my circle.
Once we got to the Art Museum, we drummed for another long stretch before the speeches started. Then the leaders left, and the minute they did, all the rhythm went with them. It was okay, though. There were plenty of speeches. Dozens and dozens. I stayed for them all.
When the whole thing was over, I walked alone back to the train.
Quite a few of my teaching colleagues had gone in a group. Both Olivia and Gumby attended. But on this day I elected to make my own way and find my rhythm sisters and make a noise for the Resistance. It turned out swell.
It sure looks like we'll be marching for years to come. I can take it. I'm a Mummer.