Many visitors to Philadelphia for this week’s Democratic National Convention were greeted by the The Walt Whitman Bridge, bringing to mind both the enduring nature of wordsmith Whitman’s verse and the feat of linking humanity across difficult or seemingly impossible terrain. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, sung by Paul Simon on the Convention’s opening night, spoke to the anguish of discord and suffering below the waters and the tranquility, strength and intuitive engineering of the steel that soars above it.
Divining Diversity, Convention Day 1
The first full day of the Democratic National Convention celebrated the spirit of a nation at its cultural and diverse best. Participants in numerous events on Monday applauded the legacies of Native American, Black and Hispanic communities, Asian and Pacific Islanders and the contributions of all these groups to the United States. Additional events held honoring Native Americans included cultural presentations that captured the vital markers of history and identity.
On the pages of Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ are the words, “I am large, I contain multitudes”; “Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?” The image of this bridge in Philadelphia calls us to overcome our most persistent of human challenges: to bring strangers face to face, to truly hear and see one another, to seek understanding and to give empathy. These are the same persistent challenges that First Lady Michelle Obama faces down by ‘going high,’ when others ‘go low.’
Since 1953, this bridge has spanned the Delaware River from Philadelphia to Gloucester City, New Jersey. Walt Whitman was not a native of Pennsylvania. He was born in New York and lived out his years in New Jersey. He was not a native, but he was a neighbor, and was so recognized by the people of the state. This action represents the people of Philadelphia so well. In this spirit, visitors to the City of Brotherly Love, here for the convention, were recognized this week and received as neighbors.
The walkway lining the center of Philadelphia’s Broad Street, the Avenue of the Arts, is a glory of varied colors. It is unexpected, it is graphic, and is a visual representation of the many voices that bubble to be heard, the many persons in our communities who deserve to grow as fiercely in their lives as they choose.
Divining Unity, Convention Day 2
On the second full Day of the Democratic National Convention, the many meeting halls, libraries and centers, old as Elfreth’s Alley and new as the Comcast Center that make up Philadelphia, enclose, support and lift up all of its people. For this one week in July, all of the people in Philadelphia *are* Philadelphia. Those who have lifted their voices, and those who are silent. The people in the restaurants and the people in the streets. The mothers and fathers who speak for their children, and the men and women who remind us all of the spirit of William Penn through their pursuit of peace, religious freedom, and prosperity.
These iconic elements of Philadelphia landscape stand as reminders of our fragility, our strength, our individual power, and our ultimate connectivity. Visiting and exploring those numerous sites in ‘The Workshop of the World’ inspires us in the midst of our challenges by reminding us of the strengths that will always carry us through.
Catherine Fleming Bruce, a guest writer for the Democratic National Convention Host Committee blog, is author of ‘The Sustainers: Being, Building and Doing Good through Activism in the Sacred Spaces of Civil Rights, Human Rights, and Social Movements‘, a book published in 2016. She lives in Columbia, South Carolina.