Three years ago I moved South from New York. My new town was Wilmington, NC and everything felt startlingly new and different. I remember the first time I put my blinker on to merge into a lane and the person in that lane let me in, or learning how to look strangers in the eye and say hello, or even not to find it unusual if the check out person at the grocery store wanted to know what I was cooking for dinner. For awhile, I felt like Special Agent Dale Cooper as he rolled into Twin Peaks. I thought Spanish Moss, which dangled from the branches of nearly every tree in Wilmington was its own kind of tree.
1:26 “Got to find out what kind of trees these are, they’re really somethin”
2:21“What kind of fantastic trees do you got growin around here? Big, Majestic…”
Moving to Spartanburg has been a much smoother transition. What’s new feels like a variation of what I learned when I first moved to the south. The translation goes a little bit easier. I knew where to find the Sunday New York Times. The humidity is sort of comforting. What’s touched me about Spartanburg has had less to do with its geographic location or even cultural specifics as much as it has been the energy of the people in the town.
A few weeks before moving here to Spartanburg I received this text from my friend Erin as she drove down south toward Biloxi:
Spartanburg from I 85: fireworks, peaches, Jesus, hills, a city.
The other AIRs and I only been here a few days but already I feel immersed much deeper than this initial view from above. It has been a string of really warm, welcoming and rambunctious events. As I picked up my pace to step into Spartanburg’s calendar it was a real pleasant surprise to see that we had all arrived just in time for Spartanburg’s Pride march.
Pride has been an important event for me for a number of years; that important mix of the familial and the personal that makes everything a bit political. There was a lot of buzz about the Peter Greenberg blog post that listed Spartanburg as one of the top five most unexpected places to have a pride parade. It also gave the statistic from last year that nearly 500 people marched and 300 showed up in protest. This year would be especially meaningful because of Mayor White’s public support of the event.
Here’s my privilege revealed: I had never been to a pride event where the protestors were visible. I’d been to one in my hometown where I ate a funnel cake and cheered in support for my mom. I’d been to the one in the West Village and danced with topless men in blocked off streets, and to ones in Portland Oregon where the those cheering in support were more numerous than those actually marching. But when I walked to the train depot on Saturday afternoon I felt overheated and a little nervous. At the start, the parade was flanked on either side by two groups of protestors.
Some of their signs looked internet purchased, some looked hand made but both had the same general message. I never had to walk through protestors before but those leading the parade seemed un affected and held their banner a little higher, the crowd hooped two or three times, and then we were moving and we were past the protestors, shouting and marching past empty side walks.
Occasionally we would pass a warm group of folks holding signs of support but for the most part, the only people standing on the sidelines were protestors. No one else seemed to see it as abnormal. People chanted and pumped their fists and laughed and hollered. Claudia and I had a chance to chat.
Just before we neared the end of the march a man protesting on the side line began speaking to us loudly but I never did hear what he said. The crowds voices came together, all full of joy and soon the man preaching was just another pacing man. The sound of the crowd was incredible, and for the first time I turned to look back. There wasn’t an end to the line of people and they were spread as wide on the street as the police could allow. I looked again at the people around me. The march had pride and the march had joy, but the individual marchers had another kind of fire, one of defiance. This wasn’t just a celebration; gay or straight, the people there were marching for their lives. There didn’t need to be people on the side lines. Nearly all who were there to support were marching.
I don’t think I’ve ever visited a place where I could instantly feel how effectively people could come together no matter what resources were available. If Agent Cooper were coming to Spartanburg he’d probably be marveling about the energy of the people rather than the trees. Actually, he might have a thing or two to say about the kudzu, but I’ll save that for another post.
photos courtesy of Andrew Molinaro and goupstate.com