Their demands were unclear. They started gathering before noon, several hundred at the start, in the park across from the plaza of the Capitol building in Denver, Colorado. They carried rough, hand-lettered signs and backpacks. I watched them from a podium on the west portico of the Capitol where I was setting up an event for my client: Colorado Call to Prayer Day.
From my vantage point, I saw a growing, restless, vocal crowd whose intentions were unknown to me. From their vantage point, they saw 200 white chairs gleaming in the sun on the plaza facing the Capitol building, a platform with flags, a podium, and an arrangement of chairs for speakers. Maybe they could make out a woman in black standing at the podium, alone on the platform, watching them. Who knows?
I do know that as I listened to them, the rhetoric ranged from reasoned to incendiary, and that this was discernible from the tone alone, without being able to hear all the words. I sensed that the crowd contained a trouble-making element. They were the loud, strident ones with anger escalating in their voices.
The state troopers who provided security for Colorado Call to Prayer Day formed a loose cordon along the semi-circular perimeter of the Capitol plaza. They stood, watchful and formidable, as my team of volunteers continued to set up for the 2:00 pm event. The state trooper liaison who kept me briefed was a short, compact woman with no-nonsense efficiency written all over her. I asked her what sort of problems she anticipated if the crowd advanced to the Capitol. This particular demonstration group, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street dubbed ‘Occupy Denver’, had been gathering, camping out and getting arrested in the park below the Capitol for several days.
“They’re very noisy,” she replied. A nuisance, I thought, but not a deal-breaker. She went on, “The thing is that they throw feces. That’s what they carry in those backpacks.” I recoiled at the thought. I wondered if that kind of hostility represented the mood and agenda of the whole crowd – I hoped not.
I mused that it only takes a handful of people throwing feces to turn a whole city against a crowd of demonstrators, many of whom might be, in fact, good citizens who are troubled about the state of our nation and are looking for answers, or maybe down-on-their luck families unable to find work and looking for a break, or maybe just Americans so frustrated with our nation’s condition that they’re mad as hell, not going to take it anymore, and looking for an outlet.
A few minutes later, the troopers got word from their undercover intelligence that the demonstrators were about to storm the Capitol. Immediately a team of riot police in full black combat gear appeared and set up a command post just inside the Capitol building. We moved all of the student volunteers inside. A small group of men and women stayed on the plaza to pray. I watched and waited from the portico, wondering what could be going through the minds of the demonstrators. Surely they must realize that they would be walking into a very, very bad situation. And without having told the world exactly what their demands were, what could they possibly hope to gain?
“We’re moving! We’re moving!” came the cry from the leader of the demonstration, clear as a bell across the plaza. The riot police moved swiftly to their places on the portico, as strong and forbidding as larger-than-life action figures, their bulky black uniforms stark and ominous against the white marble of the Capitol. I prayed and waited. Then the word came, “They’re moving to the 16th Street Mall.” The demonstrators had decided to move away from the Capitol, to the long, urban pedestrian shopping mall that bisects all of downtown Denver. “Good move,” I thought, guessing that they were going to wait on the Mall until 2:00, when they would come back to the park and try to disrupt Colorado Call to Prayer Day. We were a convenient target.
We finished setting up. Volunteers moved to their posts. It was show-time. Elected leaders and citizens gathered and took their places on the platform and in the audience.
The crowd of demonstrators moved en masse from the Mall to the park below the Capitol and began to advance, their numbers greatly increased. They didn’t look like they were coming in peace. State Troopers formed a tight shoulder-to-shoulder cordon around the perimeter of the plaza.
The program commenced. Elected leaders – Colorado State Senators and Representatives – announced the formation of the Colorado Legislative Prayer Caucus, a bi-partisan group of legislators who have committed to pray together and seek God’s will as a body. These humble and sincere men and women spoke with intelligence and clarity, expressing their desire to be used by God to make a difference for the good of their state and our nation.
The demonstrators held their ground and made plenty of noise, but the ceremony went forward without a hitch. I began to notice people from the crowd below-- ones and twos, families – approaching the steps leading up to the plaza. Some of them still held signs; most had backpacks. The troopers kept them outside the perimeter, but they sat and listened.
A friend who accompanied my husband to the Capitol event walked down to the crowd to see what was happening. He told me later that he saw an older man circulating through the crowd with a sign that said something like, “Come pray with us at the Capitol.” For people who were looking for answers, he offered an answer that drew some away from the restless mass of demonstrators to a gathering with clear direction and promise.
“If my people who are called by my Name will humble themselves and pray,
and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven
and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:14
Imagine if every one of us put God first in our lives and trusted Him. Imagine if we all acknowledged and worshipped God as our Creator and our Lord. Imagine if we all put aside our agendas -- personal and political – and sought His will alone. Imagine….
You can say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.