Sunday, April 10th, 2016:
It’s the final day of the Democracy Spring march that began in Philadelphia 9 days ago. We’re going to be arriving in D.C. later that afternoon. At our morning rendezvous, one of my fellow marchers hands me his car keys.
“I want to march today, can you drive support?”
“I’d love to! Which car?”
“The Denali over there.” I glance to where he’s pointing, then do a double take and look at him like he’s crazy.
“That big truck?! I’ve never driven anything larger than a small SUV.”
“You’ll be fine. I trust you.” He pats me on the back and walks off, leaving me nervously holding the key to someone else’s very nice truck.
Okay, Tara. You can do this. You’ll be able to take it nice and slow since you’re driving along with the marchers.
I hoist myself up into the truck, see an auxiliary cable, and instantly pull out my iPod. I put it on a dance playlist, adjust the seat and mirrors, buckle up, roll down the windows, and put the truck in drive. I very slowly pull out of the parking lot, panicking slightly when I bump a curve, but then I’m on the road. Everything is intact, and this gigantic truck is actually easy for me to maneuver. Who knew?
Prince’s 1999 starts playing, and I turn it up as I drive past the marchers, waving and cheering them on.
Later, I take a wrong turn when leaving the University of Maryland campus where we stopped for lunch, but quickly find my way back to the route. I am elated and having fun driving this gigantic truck, listening to some of my favorite music. Then, I get lost in rush hour traffic in DC, and show up late to the end-of-the-day rally. Once I finally find my way to Union Station, stressed, shaking, and exhausted, and I am relieved when they motion me to just pull up on the grass of Columbus Circle. I throw the truck into park and turn it off, remaining in the driver’s seat for the end of the rally.
As everyone disperses, people I got to know along the march walk by and wave, and then someone says, “We made it! We’re here! Can you believe it?” I look around me and burst into tears.
We made it.
That night, I hang out with a group of awesome friends from the march and actually party like it’s 1999 – I have a few drinks, and the next day, I wake up in Washington, D.C. with my first-ever hangover.
Tuesday, April 12th, 2016
Day 2 of the sit ins, and I’m standing under some trees across from the Capitol building with a group of people waiting for the 83 elders who were arrested for sitting in that day to be released from police custody. We’re spirited, chanting “Thank you! Thank you!” whenever a group of arrestees is released. Someone grabs the bullhorn and starts to give a speech, saying, “We are gathered here today…”
I almost instantly tune everything else out as I hear Prince’s voice in my head.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called ‘life’…
I back out of the crowd and sit on the ground with my back against a tree, pull a notebook out of my backpack, and start to write. I hesitate every once in a while, including at the end. I’m wracking my brain, and then hear Prince’s voice. It sounds like the end of his opening to “Let’s Go Crazy” – “and if the elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy, punch it to a higher floor!” But instead, the words are,
And if the oligarchy tries to bring you down… sit in! Make sure your voice is heard!
I jot down those words, and then stand and say, “I have something to share.” The megaphone is handed to me and I start to read what I just wrote down.
As I finish, the small crowd around me goes crazy. After making an announcement about a lost watch, I hand the bullhorn off to someone else and wander over to a tree even further away to catch my breath.
Wednesday, April 13th, 2016:
As I’m getting ready to head over to the day 3 sit in rally, I see that my dad had shared the video of me reading my version of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and saying, “No doubt about it, that’s my daughter, rewriting a Prince song for a political revolution.”
No doubt about it, he raised me with the right influences.
Friday, April 15th, 2016:
It’s student and youth day with Democracy Spring, and I’m finally going to sit in and be arrested for something I believe in. Eric Byler of TYT gives me a wireless mic so that what is going on can be heard during the live stream of the arrests. Unfortunately, the microphone batteries die, and it doesn’t work.
Earlier in the day, 13 amazing Democracy Spring protestors invaded the capitol and zip-tied themselves to some scaffolding, and the police were more than ready for the regular sit ins. We were blocked from even reaching the capitol steps. We sat down right there on the mall and started our teach-in. For the second time, I give my Prince-inspired Democracy Spring speech, this time shaking like a leaf. I sit back down, cheering and chanting and listening to the other speakers. A while later, a police officer approaches me and asks me to stand. I look up at him and imagine myself saying, “I’m comfy right here, thanks.” Instead, I remain silent and rise to my feet, handing over my driver’s license. The officer says, “Tennessee? We haven’t arrested one of those yet!” I laugh and say, “That seems about right.”
I am led off without being handcuffed and sassily jump up and down with my hands in the air, promoting peace.
Sunday, April 17th, 2016:
Democracy Spring is about to hand off the protests to Democracy Awakening, and it’s my final day in DC. I rush off to the rally to assist with the TYT Live Stream. Eric turns the camera on me and I am asked what I said on the day I was arrested. I give my speech for the final time, and it is my best reading of it yet.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life. Electric word, life, it means forever, but I’m here to tell you – there’s something else.
A world of never ending equality. You can always have your voice heard, rich or poor.
So when you vote for that person in Washington D.C. – you know the one, Dr. I’m going to change this country for the better – instead of asking how they’re going to create change, ask who funds their campaign. ‘Cause in this country, things are much harder than in a democracy. In this country, we are the 99%!
And if the oligarchy tries to bring you down… Sit in! Make sure your voice is heard!
I continue helping with the live stream, and then the rally turns into a march back to Union Station. I run back and forth along the march, finding people to say goodbye to, and then sprint ahead to catch my Greyhound back to Nashville. On the bus ride, instead of feeling relieved that I’m heading home, I feel as if I’m getting further and further away from it.
Thursday, April 21st, 2016:
I’ve been home for three days now. I wake up on the fourth and have an email from a friend who is gushing over my Prince-inspired Democracy Spring speech. I respond with a thank you, and open Facebook.
The first headline I see says “Prince dead at 57.”
I sit in shocked silence, then see that it’s from TMZ. I shake my head and think, “it’s a hoax.” Then I scroll and see another headline stating the same thing.
“WHAT?!” I screech at my computer screen. I frantically click on headlines, hoping it’s not true. After a while, it doesn’t seem likely that it’s false. I call my dad, who is visiting my sister in Seattle. He answers cheerfully and asks me what’s up.
“Prince died.” I croak.
“What?” he asks.
“Prince. He… died, Dad. They found him dead this morning at Paisley Park.” I start crying, and can’t stop for quite a while.
Over the course of the day, friends and family post in memory of one of the musicians my family raised me on, the musician who had a surprisingly large influence on my time with Democracy Spring. Friends from Democracy Spring contact me about the sad irony of it all.
I turn on my Prince playlist, but can’t deal with it without crying, and so I open Pandora and turn Flume Radio up as high as it will go. The electronic beats help me direct my focus elsewhere.
Today, Monday, April 25th, 2016:
Some people think it’s odd to mourn for someone you’ve never known. Prince’s music influenced my entire childhood, as well as recent events in my life that have contributed to my continuing growth… of course I’m going to mourn for him.
Over the past few days, I have decided to focus on good memories instead of focusing on the fact that he was suddenly, shockingly gone. Yesterday, I met with a dear friend to watch a special viewing of Purple Rain. We cried during the movie, and laughed afterwards at the realization that I hadn’t actually seen the full movie until then – my parents had apparently fast-forwarded through several scenes when I’d watched it at a younger age.
Since his passing, the internet has been inundated with amazing realizations and awesome creativity. One of the most frequent things that I have seen is how he has inspired people to be themselves, and given them the strength to make sure their voices are heard. He certainly did that for me. While the world is sad to see him go, Prince left behind a legacy of inspiration – there’s something in his repertoire for everyone.
One thing’s for certain – wherever he is, Prince is living it up like it’s 1999. We should continue to follow in his footsteps here, while we’ve all still got the chance. I certainly plan to.
Here’s to you, Prince.