It began as a rally in the Diag. They sallied forth from all corners of the campus, of all hues and creeds. They chanted “Yes we can” and “Yes we did”; “Obama” and “U.S.A.” Who they were was insignificant. What they stood for both literally and figuratively was a sacred idea that from time to time requires the blood and sweat of patriots and tyrants. They were students but foremost they were Americans. From the Diag they marched, led by a diverse group, including a few friends of mine. They came to the junction of North University Avenue and State Street, where they another generation years ago staged sit-ins. The crowds swelled and bubbled with energy and excitement.
Next they marched like pilgrims in spiritual ecstasy down State Street to the Michigan Union where another young reformist president, John F. Kennedy, announced his intent to create the Peace Corps in 1961. Here the march became an outpouring of patriotism unlike anything I’ve seen since the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Students flourished flags and chanted “U.S.A” again, but this time they sang the National Anthem. Drums and cowbells filled the night sky with melody.
They took to the streets still again, this time crossing onto South University Avenue and arriving at the President’s House, shouting, “Wake up Mary Sue.” Young men perched in trees and the crowd pushed forward down the street. As they passed East University Avenue, the pace quickened and the march turned into a charge reminiscent of that in Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” I thought to myself, “Sweet God, it’s a revolution and I’m in the vanguard.” They reached the intersection of South University Avenue and South Forest Street, where they again staged sit-ins and chanted. The crowd had grown exponentially since departing Mary Sue Coleman’s house.
Sitting at the intersection, the crowd grasped what became their ultimate goal: the Big House. Word spread like hope through the crowd, and the forward elements began to turn back down South University Avenue the way they had come. Yet another crowd had coalesced outside Coleman’s house. Returning now, the second crowd collided with the first in a bout of celebration. I moved forward with a group trying to continue to the Big House, but to no avail. The combined crowd turned back down South University Avenue, proving this first surge was a false start toward the Big House and deferring the promise of progress a little while. Still, we had been warned to expect setbacks and false starts.
Finally the crowd returned, like Joshua’s army before the town of Jericho, to the pulsating beat of drums as young men and women danced in the streets — their bodies quivering in excitement and anticipation, communicating the latent sexuality that inhabits moments like these. The uncontrollable character of crowds ensured that an undercurrent of possible violence accompanied these emotions. At any moment the gathering could have turned violent. Yet caught up in the elation of the moment and mindful of the message they had heard, remarkably few if any violence or acts of vandalism occurred.
A much-diminished crowd reached the Big House around 2:30 a.m., preceded by police officers. Arriving at the Big House, they finally realized their dream, so long deferred. They rejoiced awhile to music from the drums joined by an assortment of horns. While the crowd departed several minutes later, the makeshift band struck up the messianic “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
I departed this festive company minutes later, though I can’t help but reflect upon this movement and attempt to assign some significance or meaning to it. Ukraine had the Orange Revolution, Kyrgzstan the Rose Revolution; the students at the University of Michigan and across the country had a Blue Revolution. We awoke yesterday tired and exhausted, wondering what exactly our actions achieved. If nothing else, we will reflect on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning and remember the passion, the idealism and the revolution. But most of all, we will remember what it truly means to be American.
Paul Leahy is an LSA senior.