Thursday, December 24, 2009

global night commute

This is an article that I wrote for my high school newspaper about an overnight rally that we went to in Grant Park to advocate for America to become proactive in ending the war in northern Uganda. When I wrote this article in 2006, the organization was just becoming renowned and developing. It is now comprised of hundreds of thousands of volunteers. I was reminded by this article when a friend of the family mentioned today that he had recently gone on a medical mission trip to Uganda. When he said that I paused and wondered why that sounded so strange to me. I then remembered that the only real knowledge that I had of Uganda was that there had been a prominent rebel force, the LRA, that had attempted to overthrow the Ugandan government. This reminded me of an article that I wrote several years ago for my high school paper. I was stunned by the fact that while a little less than five years ago I was writing about how Uganda was being torn apart by civil war and child abduction, I now knew someone who was able to travel there on a medical mission trip. I hope that my writing style has improved since high school, but this is the article. It was initially longer, but it was edited for the amount of space available in the paper. I still remember that night as being especially powerful and one that I will not forget. I can remember walking in the pouring rain, through the construction taking place along the main part of Michigan Avenue as vividly as if it happened yesterday.

I, like many others, was both touched and disturbed by the Invisible Children documentary that was presented in March. I was deeply bothered by the fact that while I was completely consumed by worry about things like schoolwork and applying to colleges, children in Uganda were worried about surviving on a nightly basis. This seemed inherently unjust, and I was frustrated at what appeared to be my hopelessness in the situation. The war was going on in northern Uganda, and I was in a western suburb of Chicago.

However, the creators of the film left us with a chance to help- by participating in the Global Night Commute. The Global Night Commute took place on April 29 in over 130 cities across the country. Thousands gathered to mimic the commute that Ugandan children make every night to promote awareness, take a stand, and to put an end to child abduction rampant in the civil war in Uganda. The rally was to promote a proactive approach by the American government to help to eradicate the need for night commuting by the children of Uganda, and ultimately the war in Uganda itself. I was one of the two Nazareth students that participated in the event, and found it to be not only a rally for an amazing cause, but also a defining point in my life.

When Amber O'Leary and I arrived in Chicago via train on April 29, we were expecting a calm, if slightly uncomfortable night in Grant Park. We figured that we would hang out with the other Nazareth kids that were sure to be there, and pass the night talking and resting. The night did not turn out exactly as we planned.

We arrived in Grant Park on a very cold, rainy evening. I was surprised to see that there were already hundreds of people there; I did not have any idea of how much this cause meant to some people. Just as we were entering the park, we got into a conversation with two women from Wisconsin who had taken a two-hour train ride to be there. They explained to us that they had heard about Invisible Children months ago and had decided that the distance to Chicago for the Commute meant nothing in light of what the Ugandan children go through every night.

Amber and I checked in at a table and then began walking around the park. We saw hundreds of people; mainly older teenagers and college students, milling around and unrolling tarps and sleeping bags. Everybody was extremely friendly, but Amber and I initially felt rather isolated- we could not think of how start a conversation with anyone. However, after about an hour, any feelings of isolation or awkwardness were dissipated.

At about 9 o'clock in a biting wind and steady drizzle, everyone in Grant Park gathered to take a picture and to listen to Jacob, a child from Uganda who had come to speak at the event. Jacob was very soft-spoken and was extremely gracious. It was touching to hear him express his thanks for our spending a night to try to draw attention to the war in Uganda that affected him and all those around him. After listening to his speech everyone felt more comfortable.

Amber and I met a DePaul photography student from Boston, Johnny, who got into a deep discussion with us about politics. A few minutes later, another college student, Kevin, joined our conversation as it shifted to religion. Amber and I did not agree with most of the points Kevin made; he was a strict literalist interpreter of the Bible and seemed eager to convince us to be the same. However, it seemed as if he enjoyed debating and being challenged by us; we talked for quite a while as the weather grew steadily colder and our clothes grew wetter.

At about 2am we once again assembled to have a mass prayer. Initially, almost everyone at the Commute held hands in a giant circle and began to sing religious songs. After a few minutes, however, the circle broke into about 20 circles of groups of four or five people who held hands in tight circles and spoke honestly and deeply. Some groups were praying, revealing more about themselves than I expected.

There were many things said in those groups of relative strangers. It seemed almost a comfort that we would probably never see each other again, so really we had no reason to hide anything. After the prayers I went with two of my new friends to Dunkin Donuts to get hot cocoa to bring back to the park. We returned to Grant Park feeling a little bit different; like we had just realized that we were not as different as we thought we were.

We were completely drenched and exhausted as we made the eight block hike back. Somehow, in that time we told each other some very deep secrets, things that I would hesitate to tell anyone I have a close friendship with. It reminded me of The Breakfast Club as we were all completely different, but were somehow becoming united through the experience we were having together.

All the people we met that night were very different from ourselves, but we were all united in the fact that we were there to make a difference. The desire for change in a country thousands of miles away from us formed an initial bond that was strengthened as the night twisted on through deep conversations and new friends.

When the time came to gather for a final picture, almost no one had slept. We had all been too caught up in the unexpected events that had happened that night to worry about such things as sleep or food.

When Amber and I arrived at Union Station we were completely drenched, exhausted, and hungry, but those feelings were overshadowed by our pride in doing for one night what some children have done every night of their lives. We sat by other Global Night Commuters in the train station; we had never met them, but it did not matter. Everyone there that night had established a connection solely because of being in the same place for the same reason.

As we silently boarded the train home, we knew that we would never again experience something quite like what had happened that night. We were just two of some 70,000 people who participated in the Commute, but we really felt like what we had done had made an impact. We had put ourselves into someone else's shoes for 12 hours, and after leaving we felt a little bit different ourselves.

The war in Uganda is far from over. For ways that you can help, go to

The next year, some of my friends from high school and I went to the second Invisible Children rally. This one was to promote awareness of the displacement camps in Uganda that more and more families were being forced onto beause of the devastation of the war. It took place in the parking lot of McCormick Place. I did not write an article about this, but I remember it nearly as accurately as the one the year before. The part I remember most vividly was watching the sun come up over Lake Michigan with one of my friends, and the conversation that we had there. I made a friend that currently lives in DC, who I still keep in contact with today.

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