Some folks here in Denver try to avoid the protesters. They take a circuitous route, they keep talking with their chums, they look the other way. Lots of people make light of the chants and the signs.
I've been a protester so I pay attention.
And I think because of that, I pay less attention to the message than I do to the messenger. I understand what it is that motivates someone to protest -- a passion for the issue and a certain degree of anger. And so when I pass a protester, I try to consider what motivates them. I consider what we might have in common. I am a firm believer in the notion that you can never move people to a new understanding without first identifying common ground.
So last night I left the Pepsi Center and began my walk through the protester gauntlet. I had been separated from my friends and so it was just me, left to my own thoughts. And I came face to face with a sickening pro-life poster held by a young man. A very young man. 15 tops.
I looked into his eyes. I grabbed my camera and I took his picture. I wanted to remember what he looked like. (Note: my photos accompany this post, cross-posted at joangarry.com).
I told my friend Jeff about the 15 year old, he said what many say, "Brainwashed!"
I'm not so sure.
Eileen and I have three kids. We are good parents most of the time. Our thirteen-year-olds are staunch supporters of equal rights for all Americans. They call people out on the use of the word 'gay' as a pejorative. They don't sit idly by. I bet there are those who would call them "brainwashed."
Having said that, I have never asked any of our kids to join me at a protest. Eileen and I have long felt that our kids needed to make their own decisions about how they wanted to advocate for the issues they care about -- when they were old enough to do so.
But the truth is that our kids care a lot about what we care about. Just as I suspect that young man cares a lot about what his parents care about.
But I do believe that when we talk about anti-gay activists at our kitchen table it is without anger and with respect. I like to think that we point out the argument against gay equality in a relatively evenhanded way.
Maybe that is what got to me the most. To this beautiful young man, I was a baby killer. Nothing more and nothing less.
God knows it is more complicated than that.