A while back some local union officers I know (Shannon & Sari) were raising funds to help the Water Protectors out in North Dakota. I had just been discussing the Water Protectors with some other union staffers who wanted to go out and join the protest. But since they were from warmer climates, I strongly advised them against it. Because nothing can prepare southerners for North Dakota cold in the winter time if you have never experienced it before. It can be dangerous cold. And I was afraid we might only be making things worse by showing up unprepared. So, instead I sent some cash to the Standing Rock Sioux, and made a small contribution to Sari's effort so she could help out as well.
All this week, I have been working with Shannon and Sari, to visit various locations represented by their local union. The very last stop on my list was in Fargo. It is cold in Fargo. Ridiculously cold. And the last few days in this part of the country has had me re-evaluating my choices in life, walking out in the morning to be blasted by cold wind that penetrates your clothes and stings your face and makes every body part you have ever injured ache.
If it sounds like I am whining, it's because I am totally whining. And this morning when I walked outside into that cold wind I stepped right off the edge of the sidewalk and slammed into the ground. I should add that I am not a small man... or a particularly young man. While not quite in danger of breaking a hip yet, I am of the age where I don't exactly spring back up. I pulled myself to my feet and looked around for witnesses, relieved when I saw none, and assessed my injuries. Yes... it looked a lot like the picture above.
My pants were ruined. My knee and palm were scuffed on one side. On the other, my wrist and ankle and elbow were all slightly sprained and my back hurt even more than usual. Oh yeah... and did I mention it was cold outside?
I hobbled back up to the room and thought about cancelling my meeting today. But that's not what union people do. Union people press on. They endure. They get through it. So, I changed my pants and limped out to the car.
I was having a luncheon today on behalf of Shannon and Sari's local union. There are about twenty people at the location, so I went and picked up nine foot long sandwiches and had them cut in half. So all told, I went in with 18 sandwiches.
Inside the building no one was there. The office was nearly empty. Apparently, most of the folks were smarter than I was and opted to stay inside today, and the people who did come to see me were gluten-free. The end result was I left with 17 sandwiches. 17. That's a lot. When I do it right, I end up with 2 or 3 leftover. Enough to give to a security guard or buy some goodwill with a manager. But not 17. It's a ridiculous number. I have, a few times in the past, missed the mark to that extent and found homes for the food at a homeless shelter or a woman's shelter or the like, but those are getting are harder to come by and most of them just don't accept ready-made food like that any more.
I was literally standing outside a gas station smoking a cigarette and pondering my dilemma about what good I could do on behalf of this local union with 17 leftover sandwiches when I looked up and saw them. There, at the gas pumps was a van with 12 people crammed inside of it. The ones in the very back were sitting on the floor. And behind the van was a car with another 5. 17. The men who got out to pump fuel looked homeless. They wore layers upon layers of dirty clothes, and long slicker trench coats that had clearly seen better days.
The men pumping gas were two big Indians and they went in the station. I thought about it, and by the looks of the rag tag bunch in the van, they looked like people who could use a sandwich. I walked over and knocked on the passenger's window. He startled and rolled it down only slightly, unsure of the giant scary looking white guy who was staring back in at him.
"Do you guys want a sandwich?" I asked. "I have a lot of sandwiches."
His eyes brightened. He smiled and jumped out of the van. I walked him to my car and gave him the bags with the sandwiches in them. He told me they were Water Protectors, all of them. They had just been to court and released from jail and were on their way back out to stand up for their rights, their lands, their water, and their people. They had not eaten. All were hungry and it was a long way back to the fight.
He passed out all of the sandwiches to people who smiled and waved and shouted thank you when they got one. Then he came back, fist bumped me and gave me a big hug and thanked all the union people who have helped them along the way. And then they left. Drove off, back out into the relentless wind and cold to be sprayed with water cannons and beaten with clubs and arrested and who knows what else. Whatever the case, they were at least going out with a sandwich in their bellies. Fuel for their internal fires for just a bit.
And that is why we all press on and why we keep putting one foot in front of the other and fighting for what we believe in through it all. Because just when you want to give up and quit, something happens that reminds you why you do it, and you see people who are giving more than you, and doing more, and working harder, and it inspires you.
And while Shannon and Sari and I just thought we were doing our one thing, everything came together, almost accidentally, and almost serendipitously, for me to be right there, right when they needed us. 17 sandwiches. 17 warriors. Thank you, ladies, for putting me right where I needed to be, right when I needed to be there.