It happens at least once every week. I approach an urban crosswalk in the early morning. There are no cars in sight. There is one person, maybe two, standing on the corner waiting for the light to change and give the walk signal. Again, there are no cars in sight, so I walk on with no regard for the lights, pass the frozen pedestrians, and cross the street. When they see this, they seem startled for a few seconds, then they predictably follow me. I know now; if you walk, the sleepwalkers will follow. It happens regularly enough that I have noticed and pondered this strange phenomenon. Why would anyone stand and wait for permission from an unseen force when permission is not needed? Why wait on nothing? Perhaps some souls wait for permission because they need to be told what to do. Perhaps their kind will wait in a stupor until there is no one left to give orders. Perhaps these souls have been waiting since 1984.
There are other inexplicable crosswalk phenomena. At a busy intersection in Atlanta, there is a crosswalk going to the park. There is no light, just polite and ineffective signs reminding drivers to stop for walkers. They rarely do, and so the walkers pile up on the sidewalk waiting for a chance to cross. They would wait until they turned gray if not for one intrepid soul who simply walks around the crowd, puts out her hands, steps into the crosswalk, and crosses the busy street…with a herd of walkers fast on her heels. Sometimes this brave walker angrily knocks on the crosswalk sign. Once, she picked up a caution cone and threw it into the crosswalk. Of course, it is not always so dramatic. One way or another, the cars will stop. They will stop when a walker asserts herself and then the crowd can cross. They will not stop, however, if one stands blankly on the sidewalk and stares longingly at the park on the other side. In short, the citizen must DO something.
Sometimes, after a crosswalk tantrum, I think of the simple act of crossing a road as a microcosm of our assertion to our rights. Sure, we as American citizens have this beautifully written document detailing our rights, and yet we should never expect them to simply be handed to us. We should never expect that any unseen force will care. We should never expect others going about the business of their rights to care about ours. Sometimes, while walking through this life, we have to take what is ours. These our are rights. We can take them. We can act on them. We can live by them. We need not wait for permission. We need not wait passively for someone to give us our turn. Take it. DO something.
It happened again just this morning. I approached a crosswalk. The lights were out, blinking at each other across the void. A man stood there waiting for nothing. Waiting on no cars. Waiting on lights that were not even working. I walked around him, into the crosswalk, and across the street. It was that simple. Before I made it across, I was listening behind me. I was on the fifth painted bar when it happened – he followed me across. I knew he would; they always do. Why? There was no reason to stand there. There was no reason to wait. He could have crossed that road anytime. He could have taken his right.
Citizens, what are you waiting for? Your rights are waiting.