The first time I remember it, I was in a school gym. The off-white walls that towered to a raised ceiling. The floor wooden and painted with white lines for a basketball court – shellacked until it was shining underneath the globes of light. We were gathered in a corner – maybe for Girl Scouts, maybe for some class trip – I can’t remember the details, only that a lot of kids in uniforms were standing in a circle with me, watching a Native American man begin to beat the giant drum in the center of our circle – made in the same way for years and years, he told us, out of a Buffalo hide, and the first beat was loud and heavy and thundered in my chest.
I felt the way I did every year during the Fourth of July parade when the marching bands would turn the corner and I could hear the drums coming, and then I could feel them. I’d stand on the sidewalk as close as I could, surpassing the trumpets and the flutes, and I’d wait for the big drums, and breathe in as they overtook the other noise and the summer heat, and the rhythm would shake me. But not like this – with this drum, it felt different. It felt natural, deeper, richer. It felt like it was saying something, moving something, healing something, and I was experiencing it instead of listening.
Growing up in a town that once belonged to the Wampanoag tribe, my education did have a bit of Native American influence, but never enough for me. I was also influenced by the culture at the time with Disney’s Pocahontas coming out, but when I would get a touch more information about the Native American history of the US, (at Plymouth Plantation, in events like the one I mentioned above, books, stories, events, etc) I would get lost in it. I loved nature, I felt they respected it so much more than any other group that I knew or was a part of. I was raised on the idea of a beautiful Thanksgiving. I couldn’t understand why this incredible culture had been torn apart. I was ignorant to a point. I romanticized it a bit, but then would go back to things like the Letter from Chief Seattle, and I felt a loss of something so beautiful. And every so often, I’d hear a drum again – a CD from Arizona, a ceremony at a festival, and that feeling deep in my chest would resonate – calling like something that used to be, and I would wish the world was different, and just a little more understanding.
Over the past few days, I had watched the drama unfold over the children in MAGA hats and the Native American man who we know now as Nathan Phillips. I read the comments, I saw all the videos. The drumbeat pounded through my speakers halfway across the world, but I still felt the vibration.
Then, I watched more. I watched the entire hour and a half video of how this entire thing escalated. I just wish more would research, watch, read, and listen before making decisions, before casting judgment. There is so much more to what happened, and if you want to take the time, you can still watch the entire event on youtube. There was another group protesting, there were insults thrown from all, I saw the events I’ve seen happen over and over again on Facebook, in videos, in tweets between the politicians of my country. I saw hate instead of discussion. I saw escalations in human interaction that shouldn’t have been escalated. But who are we to stop it at this point, as I’ve said – we’ve lost our manners. We’ve forgotten our morals – and all were wrong that day as they all stood at the feet of Lincoln. But in Phillips, I saw something a bit different. I felt it in the vibrations.
Without a word spoken, Phillips began that drum again from the outskirts. His event had finished, he could have gone home. He could have first confronted the Black Hebrew Israelites, the five men that had begun the issue by shouting insults at the Native Americans and everyone around them which instigated the crowd on multiple occasions. This is what most of the media is missing – the small group was standing on the steps far before the kids showed up.
But here’s the thing: “Everyone’s got their First Amendment rights,” to quote an officer interviewed about the group on the streets of New York. Everyone can protest, everyone has freedom of speech. Everyone has their right to say anything they want. Especially in 2019, I think we’ve seen plenty of examples of that – but what happens in 2019, is that not many are willing to discuss differences. No one can walk away, and no one can stand face to face and discuss our issues. Instead, we stand 100 feet apart from one another, shouting things to demean the other, reduce their issues, insult instead of understanding.
Instead of being ushered away by whoever was chaperoning the group, instead of either side diffusing the situation, it roared louder, until it was cut by that drum. Phillips walked steadily and slowly between the two sides – facing the larger, seemingly more threatening – even if only by numbers. Even if the Black Hebrew Israelites to his back were the ones insulting his culture just minutes before. He saw the issue that we have in this country, this issue of disrespect in all directions, the issue of mob mentality taking ahold of us in numbers that are frightening, and walked in with a drum, hoping to calm the tension. Not shouting insults, not in this situation. Not showing aggression, and when that one boy stood in front of the drum, I watched over and over, wishing to see something else in that kid’s face other than what I saw.
I read the articles that said he was just nervous or didn’t understand, or that he was full of the hatred from the “black Muslims” (as apparently quoted a mother of one of the boys). But I knew that he just didn’t feel the vibration that overwhelmed me as I stood in that Catholic school gym. It looked like he didn’t feel anything but sickening superiority – even as I searched his face to hope it wasn’t true.
The rhythm of the drum was strong and broke through the chants and the insults, and soon the attention was turned onto Phillips, and the kids started dancing and chanting, and all of a sudden, the five men weren’t slinging insults at Phillips anymore, instead, they were supporting him. The insults and shouting only led to more, but standing silently against a crowd, protecting anyone that is being bullied or beaten, asking for respect from and for all, that’s what I felt – at least that was the attempt to me.
I don’t know why that group of kids was allowed to stand there as long as they did. I just know that this story is taking turns that it maybe shouldn’t. Yet if we zoom out and look at all of the parts, truly, no one is listening, no one is wanting to listen, and we’re missing the importance of the vibration of that drum.