shoesMaybe 4,000 veterans at Standing Rock, that’s what one of our Ithaca veterans estimates. Many of them invoke the oath they swore when they enlisted, “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;…” They did not forget that oath, or lose their skills, or dampen their hearts. They are now, as one veteran said, where they are meant to be.

I light candles. I pray for all of them, with all of them – the defenders and the defenders of the defenders. I wish I were younger, that I were a veteran, that I were there. But even as I pray, I know something. The action at Standing Rock is like the heartbeat of something new, something that is sending pulses of new blood into every moment in which each of us becomes a supporter and a defender of the Constitution of the United States.

Story after story is being told now of incidents on buses, or in waiting rooms, or in checkout lines, in which casual racism and abuse becomes loud and entitled and someone turns around and says, no, not here, not today, not ever, and the attacker backs down or leaves and people who might otherwise, in a time long ago, a month or so back, have had a sudden case of selective deafness, applaud and smile and feel a bond among themselves.

Those are the front lines now, where bullies try out how far they can take their venom and ordinary citizens say no, not this time. It is happening already. “They” are coming for the Muslims, and the immigrants, and the African-Americans, and the Jews, and the women, and LGBTQs, and anyone with brown skin, or a scarf on their head. Look the other way and the bullies begin to think their dark side is something they have a right to. They gang up, they organize, and then it looks like Germany in the 30s. By then it is too late, or if not too late, immeasurably harder.

Veterans, all military people, have a chance to publicly declare their willingness to sacrifice themselves for their country but that right belongs to all of us as American citizens. It is a right, but it is also a duty. (See Support and Defend …, which I wrote in what seems like another life three months ago.) As American citizens, we are required, each and every one of us, to defend the Constitution and today that does not mean in some other country, after weeks of training, and the issuing of a uniform. It means right here, right now, in the midst of what we thought was going to be just a day like any other. We were on our way to work, or tired coming home, or trying to get through a To Do list, or late for a meeting and some jerk flexes his muscles and we have a choice. The front lines are suddenly right here, in this moment, in this place.

So feel the kinship to Standing Rock. Send them money, send them energy. Know that they are sending energy back. Use it. Stand together, grounded in this beautiful, fragile, endangered country.

I post this in the hour of international prayer for Standing Rock, with a deep bow to the protectors and defenders.