You might have missed them if you were running late on your way to the American Dance Festival on Monday night. The hard rain had come by then, washing out the list of words chalked in meridians radiating out from the traffic circle in front of Duke University’s Bryan Center: forgiveness, empathy, elevate, respond….
An hour earlier, the people who had written the words had scattered, from Duke Chapel to Science Drive. They were walking, deliberately, one step every five seconds or so, converging from all angles on the trees at the circle’s center. They were ADF dancers, taking part in a form of political protest and movement called “slow walk.”
Though they were in different dress, many in white, all had one clothing choice in common: a pale blue sash, with words or symbols each had written or drawn to express a deeply felt wish.
Conscientious, compassionate action, one sash read. The Hindu Aum was on another. A third read, Walk toward a new beginning: Vote.
On a fourth, Justice was written on one end of the fabric. On the opposite end was Just Us.
As they moved silently down the paths, you could sense the space, the people in, it calming down as well. A few pedestrians asked questions. Most just watched–and walked slower, more carefully, through the space themselves.
Apparently, peace is contagious.
That’s the real reason for a slow walk in the first place. “It is an example,” said organizer Yens Rasmussen. “It’s an example of being the change we want to see in the world, to quote Gandhi. I’m angry and outraged, but this is a way of channeling that energy that’s more constructive than a lot of demonstrations I’ve been a part of. It builds us up and empowers us, instead of tearing us down.”
“I loved seeing people moving faster than me,” said Marcela Giesche, a dancer from Ohio State University. “I loved seeing nature move faster than me. The wind blowing my hair was like a thousand times faster than my walk.”
“The time just sort of melted away,” observed dancer Alice White from Berkeley, Calif. “It didn’t feel like an hour at all.”
A young man wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt with “1984” printed on the front held his sash in his fingers, almost like a rosary. Slowly he walked forward, eyes closed, head bowed.
Then the clouds opened at 7:45. A clap of thunder brought waves of water down upon the walkers.
No one accelerated. All moved quietly toward their goal.
After a moment, a young man in an NYPD T-shirt strode back out into the deluge. When he reached one of the walkers, he opened a yellow umbrella and escorted her slowly down the ramp, holding it carefully over her head.
After a moment, he handed her the umbrella and ran back under the Bryan Center awning.
A moment later he ran back into the rain–and handed another umbrella to another walker.
Then he did it again. And again.
By the time we spoke to dancer Joshua Christensen, he had reallocated at least six umbrellas from concert-goers to the dancers in the rain, walking slowly toward peace.
After hanging their sashes in the trees, the protesters stood, holding one another; silent, smiling, peaceful, in the rain. One portrait of what peace looks like after you’ve walked a while to get there.