Abraham, Martin and Trayvon: Five Decades as a Reluctant Revolutionary

...But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he's gone.
-Dion, "Abraham, Martin and John"

The oppressive heat and outrage was palpable in Union Square yesterday. Thousands of New Yorkers protesting the Zimmerman verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin gathered under the equestrian statue of George Washington. They were chanting, "No Justice No Peace" and "We Are All Trayvon Martin" with signs... "Racism Kills" and a young black boy, "Will They Shoot Me Too?"

I've been a reluctant revolutionary for half a century. It was 50 years ago on a sweltering August day, thousands marched on Washington to hear Dr King's Dream. A video was brought to my attention a few years ago. It's Bob Dylan, Joan Baez on the podium, accompanying them on guitar was my 'old man' at the time. And four decades later I stood on a platform in Foley Square with Joan Baez filming her for Occupy Wall Street, it was a great bookend to a life of activism. And it was 50 years later on my 67th birthday when 50,000 in Times Square sang me a happy birthday!

In the early 60s, I crossed hands and sang "We Shall Overcome" with Pete Seeger in Height Ashbury as a member of SNCC (The Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee) and 50 years later I've had the honor to film Pete who actually remembers the event! "We Shall Overcome" had just been written but we sang "We will overcome". I was at the Sunset Strip riots, I was at Elysian Fields for the first Love In and silently wept sitting on the grass of Orange Coast College, my freshman year, when President Kennedy was shot.

There was no Facebook, Google or Twitter in those days, when there was injustice, we took it to the streets. We had sit-ins and love-ins and be-ins. We gathered on the lawns of universities, we handed out flyers and read underground newspapers and listened to the radio... and we marched, and sang protest songs, we ended a war and we ended the struggle for civil rights... or so I thought.

Didn't we deal with this already?

That's what I loved about Occupy, taking it to the streets. I loved the diversity of those who came to Zuccotti Park. It was everybody, they were mad about the bankers and the 1% and we had a new name, we were the 99 Percent. And we felt empowered and we stood up the 'the big they' and it was exciting and, like in the '60s we felt we had a hand in social change, in taking back our country.

But since the last election and the crippled Congress and vaginal probes and crippling the Voter Rights Act and banning tampons in the Texas Legislature... I feel as if our country is in retrograde held hostage by the Koch brothers and the NRA.

Not for nothing, but July 14 was Bastille Day.

As thousands of us spilled out of Union Square in a spontaneous combustion down Broadway, it was impossible to explain the surge of patriotism and empowerment. They had a chant at Occupy... "Who knows what Democracy looks like? This is what Democracy looks like"

The powerless now empowered. There was a giddy excitement that each of us shared. It was important it was necessary and it was overdue. The people had to take our country back, and we could do it. Because we have #HASHTAGS!

We were mothers, babies on their fathers shoulders and little children in strollers. We were in wheel chairs and on crutches. We were black and white, yellow and brown, gay and straight, we were in J Crew, CBGB t-shirts and hoodies. We were joyous and we were pissed. Our numbers grew, we walked for miles, down Broadway, east onto 9th Street, up Second and Third and across 23rd and human chains held the traffic back by linking hands. We held Skittles in the air, we chanted and held signs and we would not be silent anymore. Our numbers grew with yells of "join us, join us"

But that was just a taste. I have done this, for 50 years I have done this. I know what I'm talking about. Don't give up.

We can do this. I know it because any time you can get them to say, "vaginal probe', "legitimate rape'" and "Pussy Riot"... you know you're going to win.

I entreat you, as a mother and as an American. Do not let Trayvon Martin die in vain. Make your voices heard. "Be the change you want to see in the world" armed with Facebook, iPhones, Twitter and YouTube... there has never been a time of greater personal empowerment than now!

"And the people have the power to redeem the work of fools"
-Patti Smith