By Eric Feld, Knoxville, TN
Summer is but a distant memory by now as school is in full swing with homework endlessly piling and college applications rolling in. The spirit of this past summer, however, lives on in me with nearly every obstacle and encounter. While some chose to catch rays on the beach, vegetate in front of the television, or attend a summer camp, I chose to hop on a bus and ride. Forgoing an invitation to the newly reinstated Governor’s School, I took advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity and traveled the country with 18 other people from around the nation meeting everyone from beggars to celebrities along the way. Speaking with prominent organizations and activists while seeing the places important to American history, I gained a special perspective on everything that I could not wait to share with everyone at home. More importantly, I learned to view issues with an objective perspective where I could weigh all sides of a matter equally.
Starting in Atlanta at the gravesite of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most objective thinkers in history, proved appropriate. This group, dubbed Etgar 36, was told at King’s grave to maintain an open mind and not be afraid to question. Focusing on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, Etgar 36 toured Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala.; Tupelo, Miss.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Little Rock, Ark. Rosa Parks, one of the most prominent names in the Civil Rights Movement, taught the world to question authority with the seemingly small notion of refusing to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger. At the Rosa Parks Center and in Downtown Birmingham, the site of countless riots in the 1960’s, we learned firsthand from those who suffered from police beatings and the tremendous water pressure of fire hoses the importance of standing up for what’s right and keeping an open mind to change. The evolution of rock ‘n’ roll, we discovered in Tupelo and Memphis, had an incredible impact on easing these tensions as men learned to respect one another for the quality of the soul rather than their skin. In a most meaningful notion, our Civil Rights explorations ended at a monument at Little Rock Central High, the site of the most publicized school desegregation from 1957. Peering into the mirrors superimposed over images from the turbulent era, Etgar 36 recognized itself as the future of professing open mindedness to prevent a repeat of history.
An unscheduled delay in Ark. was a blessing to an already overloaded Etgar 36. In Dallas, the group explored the assassination of President Kennedy-one of the most popular and debated in American history. All of our parents know where they were when Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy; however, few ever think to ask whether Oswald in fact committed murder that day in 1963. While choosing to retain beliefs in the truth the popular explanation for Kennedy’s murder, it was important to discover the countless organizations dedicated to uncovering conspiracies surrounding the President’s death. It’s hard to believe that while students toil away on tests and parents sweat at desk jobs, other people spend their whole life examining the famous Zapruder film documenting Kennedy’s assassination to determine whether or not the bullet entered from the correct angle.
Fate brought the Etgar 36 to one of the most fortunate meetings of the whole trip. After being held over in Ark., the group arrived in Dallas unexpectedly during the weekend. One day after the Supreme Court’s decision deeming state laws outlawing sodomy unconstitutional as discrimination against homosexuals, Etgar 36 stumbled upon the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Dallas. Though easy to mock homosexuals as society condones, one has a completely different point of view after hearing a gay individual proudly declare, “Yesterday we became American citizens.”
From an AIDS awareness group called Act Up in San Francisco explaining why taking medication worsens the condition of AIDS patients to the meeting with Alan Canfora, one of the 13 Kent State University students shot by the National Guard in 1970, in Ohio to a victim of the Oklahoma City bombing convinced that the US Government has not disclosed information from the public in a supposedly closed case, Etgar 36 learned through countless examples the importance of keeping an open mind even if it disagrees with unorthodox opinion and unconventional thought process. One of the greatest climaxes of the journey occurred for me in Washington, D.C., where we met with protesters in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. I got into a bitter argument with an anti-Israeli woman after questioning her of her disgust with Ariel Sharon. Though I eventually walked away while still being cursed, I explained to her that she was contributing to the problem by not keeping an open mind about the convictions of both sides of the argument.
This editorial was painfully difficult to write as so many examples surged in my head at once. As the future of America, it is essential that students be always understanding to change and the values of groups in society. Though not always agreeing with the convictions and practices of another group, it is imperative that one shows respect for those thoughts. One must take a lesson from history and work positively with others if society is to ever progress.