While the headlines are filled with “red meat”, scandals and intense polarizations at play in Cleveland, I wanted to take a moment to share another story that is far more heartening and aligned with what America now needs.
When I arrived on Sunday, July 17, I was on a plane with Republican delegates and I had a thoughtful, calm conversation with a Trump supporter who was sitting next to me. Once we arrived, I was struck by just how friendly and organized the volunteers were at the airport, giving people a warm Ohio welcome. One man led people waiting in baggage claim in a boisterous “Happy Birthday”. There was real love in the air.
I then went almost directly to an event called Circle the City with Love, where something like 4,000 people had gathered to create a giant, unified circle across the Hope Memorial Bridge to stand in silence for 30 minutes and simply radiate love into the city to prepare for the RNC.
It was the ultimate peaceful demonstration, with people of every race, religion, and political orientation standing together with t-shirts saying “Stand for Love” to simply bring a healing presence to the city.
Before the silence began, a fleet of police officers arrived on their bikes and the crowd broke out in enthusiastic applause. As they rode past, people offered high fives and deep thanks. I saw several police officers with tears in their eyes and many joined hands themselves during the 30 minutes.
As it turns out, I knew one of the nuns, Sister Judy Cauley who had been part of the Sisters of Saint Joseph community that had supported the idea, which had been conceived and activated by Sister Rita Petruziello. Though these nuns were in their 70s and 80s, they wanted to do something that was truly healing for Cleveland and held this vision week after week until it crystallized into something that could enroll faith congregations across the city.
Now THAT is an idea worth spreading!
At the event, I also noticed the Nuns on the Bus, who have 13 women religious who are on a longer American tour, spreading peaceful activism and awareness. The next day, I was lucky enough to sit and eat lunch with Sister Simone, who has been honored for this innovative idea all the way up to the White House. On the first day, they were handing out lemonade to RNC delegates as their act of love.
The generous soul who had offered me a place to stay in Cleveland, Sarah Belzile, had still another love-based offering. She invited several of her friends to make pink T-shirts that say “Love on Legs” and set up a pink awning at the entrance of 4th street, one of the main promenades into Quicken Loans Arena. They each held Free Hugs signs and offered hugs to all takers (and high fives to those who were a bit nervous).
I did a rough estimate that they were each doing something like 30 hugs an hour for a good three hours each. Running the numbers for the four days with perhaps five people per day, they may give out something like 1,800 hugs! What a beautiful form of activism, one that brings us together rather than deepening the divides.
It was particularly inspiring that, after a week of brutal killings of police officers, many officers gratefully took them up on the offer of hugs.
Hour after hour, these love activists were simply working to bring more love into a political process that has gotten so fiercely contentious. They didn’t have another message; they simply wanted to reconnect as human beings and spread more love.
This kind of activism isn’t just a sweet sidelight. The truth is that when we lower our guards, meet in our humanity and get out of combative stances, we actually make better decisions.
I have spoken at several gatherings here in Cleveland around my new book Sacred America, Sacred World, and what is clear is that there are many people who are saying “enough” to the fear and polarization and daring to meet beyond political labels in a more honoring, loving, and respectful way.
When we do, that is when we bring out the best in us and do what is truly beneficial for our country.
Gandhi and King taught us that in order for our society to truly evolve, both sides of a divide need to lift. Though you may not see it as much on the news, creative Cleveland activists are making it real that with beautiful acts of love and unity.
May we each take inspiration and create more unity in our own communities!