This Day In Boomer History
HANDS ACROSS AMERICA
May 25, 1986
"I can not stop thinking again and again
How the heart of a stranger
Beats like a friend."
----HANDS ACROSS AMERICA by Voices of America
Growing up, I attended a variety of protests, peace marches, sit ins and activist events. For the most part, I left these moved by the speeches I heard, uplifted by the people I was with, and generally feeling that, yes, we can make a difference.
Some, though, just left me with the question - "Now what was the point of this, exactly?" Looking back, I guess that's how I feel about the "Hands Across America" campaign, culminating in the coast-to-coast event that happened 24 years ago today.
Battery Park to Long Beach, CA. Money raised from the event was designated for the homeless and hungry. Supposedly, people were supposed to pay $10 to reserve their spot in the chain (though I don't recall that happening actually; they just passed a bucket around and you threw in a donation).
And yes, I was there. I took my daughter (then 11 months old) and my mother, and we all headed to Cooper River Park in Camden to hold hands with total strangers. At the time, it seemed important - a legacy passed on from my activist parents to my child, through me. (Remember how deep everything used to seem, before we became so cynical about it all?)
I guess I wasn't the only one who thought it was important. It was reported that numerous celebrities were in the chain - Tony Danza and Dionne Warwick in Trenton, Chewbacca the Wookie in Cincinnati, 50 Lincoln impersonators in Springfield and Kathleen Turner under the St. Louis Arch, just to name a few. Nobody really important came to Cooper River, though. (Maybe that's why they didn't charge us the full ten dollars.)
The event was one of several held under the "USA For Africa" banner, though apparently the $20 million raised by this particular campaign stayed stateside. Though it sounds almost fairy-tale idyllic, Hands Across America was not without its own protesters. Notably, Senators Edward Kennedy and Edward Markey filed an official protest that the New England states were not part of the chain. Tom Selleck, with others, spearheaded a "Hawaiians Are Americans, Too!" initiative. No one spoke out for Alaskans, interestingly enough.
So what was accomplished? For a short while, we felt united. For a brief moment, we felt we still had the power to change things. For just a second, perhaps, we believed that people holding on to each other really was the answer.
Maybe not a lot, bottom line. But plenty, looking back.