I have a habit of driving/riding around the United States looking for roadside oddities and interesting historical sites and markers. I guess it’s more of a hobby. Anyway, I get to see a lot of what is good in our country and a lot of what is bad. Leaving the interstate for local highways, small towns, and dirt roads gives me a perspective on our culture, our history and our future that those who prefer to “make good time” never get to observe. I’ve traveled to all but two states this way and I’ve covered most areas of those forty eight states.
When traveling alone I rarely turn on the radio or listen to music. I’m busy driving so I don’t check social media. I focus on my surroundings because I don’t want to miss anything. If I pass something that might be of interest, I’ll turn around and go find it. It has been those unplanned detours that have given me the most indelible experiences.
So this is how I wound up in Topeka, Kansas on a drizzly, chilly, fall afternoon. I came to see The Equality House.
The Equality House is the headquarters of a non-profit organization called Planting Peace. From their website:
“The Equality House is a symbol of compassion, peace, and positive change. The house, which is painted the colors of the Pride flag, serves as the resource center for all Planting Peace human rights initiatives and stands as a visual reminder of our commitment, as global citizens, to equality for all.”
It sits on a corner lot of a quiet residential neighborhood of mostly 50s-60s tract houses. The area is well-maintained but it’s obvious they don’t have any neighborhood covenants. This paint job would not make it past most HOAs.
And while all of this is interesting, it is the location of this house that really makes an impact. It sits directly across the street from this:
That would be Westboro Baptist Church. The folks who protest at the funerals of veterans. The folks who, in the name of God, hate pretty much everyone. But mostly LGBQT people.
As the drizzle started to become a rain, I stood on the street between these two buildings and just kept looking back and forth from one to the other. It was surreal and sad. I felt sorry for the people who live in this neighborhood. Can you imagine getting in your car to go to work every morning and looking at a giant banner declaring that God Hates Fags?
But I was also filled with a bit of hope. The brave folks at Planting Peace decided to take a stand for goodness and kindness and did so by putting it right there in the Westboro congregation’s face. When they come to this building to do whatever despicable things they do, they are reminded that those they hate are right outside their door.
It was time to start heading north so I left this place with a disposition as grey as the weather. My GPS took me to Gage Boulevard. In about two miles she wanted me to turn left.
The road was blocked by a police car. I noticed there were lots of people walking on both sides of the street. There were families with kids and strollers. I saw some balloons shaped like candy corn so I assumed there was some sort of fall festival going on. I continued straight and my GPS began her frantic refrain of “Recalculating!”.
Now I saw that every side street on both sides of the road were being blocked by police cars. And there were even more people. Hundreds. Some of them were carrying signs but were shielding them from the rain so I couldn’t see what they said. I came to an intersection that wasn’t blocked so I could make my left turn. As I made the turn I saw that I was coming to a large building that looked like a civic center. The crowds were heavier and I could finally see the signs.
“Dump Trump” “Impeach” “Kava Nope”
I had landed right in the middle of a Trump rally. That will teach me to not listen to the news. The right side of the street was full of Trump protesters while the side by the auditorium seemed to be the Trump supporters. The crowd had swelled to thousands. I could see a long line of people attempting to get into the building. Everyone else was just milling around.
I immediately wanted to park my car and join the protesters. Damn, I didn’t have my “I’m With Her” Statue of Liberty protest sign! But that wasn’t going to happen. Every street was closed for about a mile in each direction. While I stopped at the next traffic light and was pondering how to find a place to park I saw a family waiting to cross the street.
Grandma & Grandpa, Mom & Dad, several kids and a baby. All of the males had on MAGA hats and it was obvious those were the newest pieces of clothing they had. They had a bedraggled look to them and it wasn’t just because of the rain. They all looked a little overwhelmed. I got very emotional as I watched them waiting for the light to change. It seemed to take a really long time. I came very close to rolling down my window to say, “You know, he doesn’t care about you. He’s here to brag about himself.”
But I didn’t say anything. I just wanted to get the hell out of Topeka. As I headed north toward home the rain got heavier and it got dark. I drove for two more hours before I finally stopped for the night.
As I drove in silence I thought about the people at Westboro Baptist Church and the MAGA family. And I thought about my own family members and friends who keep making excuses for Trump and the Republicans. The Republicans who had successfully taken over every single branch of our government, by any means necessary, as of that afternoon. Effectively removing all checks and balances that our founding fathers had attempted to put in place.
And I asked myself all the questions that I’ve been asking since “The Election”.
Why are they ok with the lies?
Why are they ok with the bragging?
Why are they ok with the insults?
Why are they ok with tearing apart our relationships with our allies?
Why are they ok with Putin and Kim?
Why are they ok with election tampering?
Why are they ok with taking children from their parents?
Why are they ok with the racism, bigotry, and misogyny?
Why are they ok with corruption?
Why are they ok with attacks on our justice system?
Why are they ok with having no checks and balances in place to tamper this administration’s worse impulses?
Why are they ok with denying science, facts, logic and reason?
Why are they ok with the clear lack of compassion and empathy?
Why are they ok with all of it?
The view from Topeka is the same as every other town in America. We stand on different sides of the same street. And we can’t seem to meet in the middle anymore.