The conscience of Chicago rolls into Washington to protest lax gun laws

The Rev. Michael Pfleger’s Caravan of Faith is, in my eyes — still unstained by cynicism and pessimism — a symbol of faith, hope and clarity.

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Protestors at an anti-gun violence rally in Washington on Sept. 25.

Protestors at an anti-gun violence rally in Washington on Sept. 25.

John W. Fountain

This is the second in a series titled, “Caravan of Faith” about a trip to a Sept. 25 anti-gun violence rally in Washington, D.C. The group returned to Chicago the next morning.

The U.S. Capitol comes into full view, a domed white symbol of American democracy against a blue, sun-drenched sky set on an emerald landscape.

The people file off the buses — grandmothers, mothers, 4-year-old Ella and her goateed, bespectacled father, sporting a black T-shirt bearing the inscription, “iAMDAD”

Some appear a little wearied and worn by the 12-hour ride but energized in purpose, which shone like light in darkness.

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I stand amid them with 13 of my journalism students — embedded as reporters. There to record, write and learn — perhaps some lessons accessible only beyond the classroom.

“It’s been 10 mins since Father Pfleger has given our group the final rundown,” Mark Patron, one of my students, tweeted minutes earlier. “I wonder how many counter-protesters will be there... More rumbling, the sun is mighty high now. Not much longer.”

After arriving, the Rev. Michael Pfleger quickly passes the word: Rendezvous on the Capitol’s West Lawn at 12:30 p.m.

The 12-bus caravan’s presence alone expresses the steadfast commitment of Pfleger and the Faith Community of St. Sabina to do something — rather than nothing — to end this scourge that has left a river of blood and tears in Chicago and other cities across America. To sensitize a nation to the plight of mothers whose wails pierce church sanctuaries and funeral homes, where their slain sons and daughters are eulogized.

Their strategy of nonviolent civil protest is but one component of a holistic, faith-based approach to community healing and uplift.

I am admittedly an unapologetic believer in Pfleger and St. Sabina, having witnessed as a Chicago native son and journalist the ravages of gun violence and the complicit complacency of far too many politicians and preachers to the incessant rain of bullets in some neighborhoods.

Pfleger and St. Sabina are the conscience of a city that might otherwise lose its soul. Unmovable they stand as a bullhorn for the victims of gun violence whose blood cries from premature graves. As a trumpet for children whose lives hang in the balance as some national legislators tap dance to the whims of the NRA.

This caravan is, in my eyes — still unstained by cynicism and pessimism — a symbol of faith, hope and clarity.

Clarity about gun violence and the need to address the oversaturation of guns in poor black and brown neighborhoods. Indeed they have come here to demand that Congress adopt tougher gun laws that ban assault weapons, demand universal background checks and require titling guns “like cars.”

By 1 p.m., the faithful stand, wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with white lettering: #EndGunViolence. There are speeches — Pfleger, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and others... St. Sabina’s youth render a soul-stirring version of the Grammy Award-winning song “Glory.”

The warm air of a summer-like afternoon is filled with chants and shouts to legislators to “Do your job!” With the lifting upon the winds the names of slain loved ones solemnly uttered by their survivors.

The rally concludes with a “die-in” as those who have come to let their voices be heard lie silently on the Capitol’s emerald lawn, clutching portraits of slain loved ones, some crying as the voice of a woman singing “Amazing Grace” a capella blares hauntingly.

By 7 p.m., we board the buses for the journey back — tired but perhaps with some of us forever changed.

“Working through all I saw today is difficult,” my student Mark tweets at 2:11 a.m. “The wails of parents with gunned down children and the passion with which they spoke about their children. I realized I had gotten caught up in the numbers. Each number an infinitely beautiful life, gone.”

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