The Young Who Teach Us

by Mark Chmiel

Jim Zwerg left Madison Wisconsin
To be part of an intensive seminar
In American satyagraha
In Southern viciousness
In the ways power twists the human soul
In the ways the human soul resists power
He was one of the Freedom Riders

One of his fellow riders said
When Zwerg came off the bus at the terminal in Birmingham
The mob that had gathered acted as if it was possessed
“They couldn’t believe there would be a white man who would try to help us”
From a hospital bed
Zwerg said with matter of fact calm
“Segregation must be stopped
It must be broken down
Those of us on the Freedom Ride will continue…
We’re dedicated to this
We’ll take hitting
We’ll take beating
We’re willing to accept death”

In the role of an ally
Zwerg was a forerunner
Of Rachel Corrie
Who was also in her early 20s
When she got her advanced practicum
In Israeli violence
In the various ways people are battered under military occupation in Gaza
In her own case being run over by a bulldozer
That led to her death
She was trying to protect a Palestinian family’s home
From being destroyed

We say we want peace and justice
And solidarity and community
But like those serious Christians in El Salvador know
There’s no resurrection Sunday
Without crucifixion Friday
The examples of the Freedom Riders
And the International Solidarity Movement activists
Generate some questions:
Where do we place our bodies today?
With whom must we be standing?
With whom are we willing to face fists and slurs and worse?
What are we willing to accept?

–from novel-in-progress, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

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