Reposted from Wednesday. The night before Thanksgiving is not the best time to post. ;-
After marching for about 4 hours and being on the front line when the police confronted the protesters and having only 6 hours of sleep, I’m exhausted. Still, I have all these random thoughts going through my head this morning as I process both what I directly experienced last night and the social commentary I’ve read since then. This may ramble or be disjointed. It may also be raw, unclear or not fully thought out. I’m seeing it as a snapshot into a frame of mind and body after a highly charged event. Nuggets to, perhaps, spark dialogue or lead to further exploration. I want to see what comes out in hopes of not losing any particularly valuable nuggets. So, here goes….
The national Black Lives Matter action is part of the ongoing struggle against racism. Specifically, white supremacy in the US. I’m white. When I attend actions or conversations hosted by my sisters and brothers who aren’t white, I consider myself a support tool. I’m there to listen and to answer calls they may have of me. I maintain the autonomy to make choices for myself. I do not impose those choices on anyone else. I do not judge those making the calls. I do not question them or try to negotiate something I consider “better.” I see any debates as internal to the community of color. This particular strain of the capitalist/colonialist disease is not in my bloodstream. I don’t live daily with it’s debilitating symptoms. I offer myself. That is all. When I answered the call to the rally last night, I had no idea what was on the agenda for the evening. I didn’t even know there was a specific hashtag until this morning. (It’s #Boston4Ferguson in case you want to read related social media.)
I am hesitant to write. For the reason stated above: this was about racism in our unjust society. My voice isn’t important when it comes to that. This is not a statement of self-humiliation or devaluing. It’s an acknowledgement of what needs to happen if we’re to end racism: we need to stop listening to white voices regarding how to end it. White people need to put aside everything they think they know about it, everything they think they know about the right way to resist and all their deeply held preconceptions of people of color. If you get that, I urge you leave here and go read the writings of non-white people. Take in what they are experiencing and thinking. Accept that they have a life experience and perspective that informs their visions, ideas and actions.
Here are three pieces you might start with:
The Black Nation Charges Suicide. Our Survival is Dependent on Self-Defense
Being uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily mean that I shouldn’t write. It could be a kind of radar system warning me to be careful. I’m trying to suss that out as I write. Watch out for ego. For privilege. For co-opting. For patronizing.
I was very impressed last night. Spurring people and attempting to manage a mass civil disobedience is not an easy task. The nature of it becomes chaotic. Differences of perspective about tactics will be made raw and the potential for the breaking of solidarity is high. One can’t expect anybody’s definition of perfect. You have to allow for a lack of control and have faith. These activists are energized and up to the task. It’s a beautiful thing to see. I witnessed both rage at the injustices they live with relentlessly and a sense of vision of a better possibility, along with the conviction that getting to that better world wasn’t going to be easy, convenient or pretty on the surface. Living with over-bearing governmental authoritarianism in their face every day means they know what they are up against. There seems to be a growing commitment to doing just that: rising up against it.
When I arrived at the rally in Dudley Square, I was heartened to see how large the crowd was. There were so many people that I couldn’t find the folks with whom I had arranged to meet. In another situation, I might have found that frustrating or even a cause of anxiety. Here, however, it brought me joy. I was verklempt. One of the organizers on stage clearly was, too. To have so many people of different race, ethnicity and economic background show up for a public action focused specifically on the racist policing in our country felt different. If for nothing else, I sense that the solidarity the organizers experienced made the whole night, regardless of any other critiques, worth it. All evening, I had and witnessed exchanges with people of color who seemed to be a little stunned, in a good way.
one of the biggest cheers of the rally was when there was a call to boycott Black Friday. Maybe people are starting to get it. They were really clear about the linkage between being manipulated into meaningless consumerism which only transfers resources to the wealthy, thereby funding the power of oppression. Very refreshing.
When there was a call to march, my first action was to establish a buddy. Next we made sure we had a small group we committed to. You don’t want to be on your own in a mass action. That can be very dangerous.
Anybody who has been paying attention knows that our legal system is used to target and diminish people of color, particularly black people*. It supplies labor to a slave system (See the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution.) It criminalizes their very existence. Unjust laws and unfair application lead to a disproportionate number of black men in jail. Our oh-so-deeply embedded belief in the absolute righteousness of the “rule of law” means that once all these people are in jail, we believe they must have deserved it. If such a huge number of black men go to jail, there must be something to this idea that they’re all thugs.
Sadly, I saw this being expressed in the march last night. We marched to the South Bay House of Correction. (don’t even get me started on the term “correction”) The point was to acknowledge that the socially systemic racism, rigged legal system, along with a corrupt and racist police force, is what leads to these high rates of incarceration and to the corruption of their spirit. We were there to say “we see you”, “your life matters”, “we understand.” This was all copacetic with a very unified voice until the chant “let them go” began. At that point, I heard quite a few white people around me say, “I don’t know about that.” The expression of fear and what they really thought about the men behind the barred windows was very clear. “Ok, maybe things are unfair to you. Still, you’re scary and I don’t want you out on my streets.” It was the most disappointing experience of the evening for me. To hear white voices fade out. Heartbreaking. The force (of oppression) is deep within them.
(*I’m not going to quote statistics here. This is a virtual brain dump, not an academic or journalistic piece. If you don’t see what’s going on read “The New Jim Crow” for starters. Or simply Google “racist policing.”)
As we were rallying at the correction center, I saw a wall of blue lights coming from where we had marched in. That is, if we were still marching they would be at our rear. Next, I looked left (what would have been straight ahead had we kept marching) and saw what looked like an army of police officers coming over a bridge toward us. Soon after this, we heard the call. The police were confronting the crowd and there was a cry for white people to put their bodies between the cops and the people of color. My whole group headed up and we ended up at the front. The walk from where we were to where we ended up was, perhaps, the most moving part of the evening for me. People were asked to pass the message along about calling for white bodies up front. It was a relief to see so many white people respond to that call. What was more emotional were the reactions from people of color as they realized what was happening. There was a range. Some found it patronizing. Some were stunned, in a good way. Some were loudly cheering their appreciation. I found all of these responses to be such a very real exchange and a vital piece of the work to be done in resisting racism.
On the response that it was patronizing for white people to be up front: a valid concern. A very valid concern, to my mind. Something which we, as white people, need to constantly and consciously be challenging ourselves about. It was my intention to stay toward the back of this action. A body to add to the solidarity count. I would never have gone up front, if we had not been asked to. If white people were making that call or insisting on playing that role, I would not have supported it. What my group did, as we got closer to the front, was let people know we were answering a call and ask those who were there if that was what they wanted. Each person up there made made their own decision and we abided by it. We let them tell us where to stand: behind them, with them or in front of them. There was a constant chatter of checking in. I hope it felt respectful. At least to those with whom we had direct contact. It’s impossible to know how those who were viewing things from a distance would interpret it. What we must rely on is the sense of solidarity in our immediate vicinity. No one wants to put themselves at risk only to found out that those they are standing with aren’t supportive.
Once up there, it was a very intense space. There was confusion, of course. What were the police intending? Was there a unified goal of the protesters? What were protesters willing to do to meet that goal? There were also many people who had never been at a protest and certainly had never risked arrest. I had three young women on my left who had no idea what was happening or what kinds of things to expect. One of them kept asking, “what could they possible arrest us for?” I sense this was more a self-denial mechanism than any real ignorance about the way things go down when the police are around. After all, it was a protest about police abuse of power.
On the topic of the protester’s goal: today, I sussed out that Black Lives Matter had organized nationwide with a goal of blocking highways in every city or town which held a protest. I wasn’t aware of this last night. As an ally, I was committed to following the lead of the black community and answering their calls for support.
I’m not going to debate or defend anything about their goals or choices made during the protest. I want to speak to this tendency to criticize and judge and threat to withhold support. So often I watch people set out to be heard on an important injustice they want addressed. For people to disrupt their lives and hit the streets means that other attempts at getting society to focus on and address the injustice have failed. People have been in the streets and working through legal channels to address the deep inequality and ongoing oppression of racism for decades. I’m always gobsmacked to hear observers say “if you don’t protest the way we think you should, you’ll lose our support.” In the case of recent protests, people are willing to invalidate the rage over the black men being murdered every 28 hours (and all the other ways in which racism destroys their lives) if bottle is thrown or stores are burned. I’ve even seen people say they will lose support if they keep doing “stupid”, “dangerous” things such as marching onto highways.
If you think the black community has to meet your standards of acceptable protest, you are perpetuating white supremacy. If you are saying that all the violence they are constantly subject to, all the indignity, all the poverty, starvation is something you cannot support fighting against over property damage, you are looking for excuses which allow you to claim you are anti-racist whilst actually supporting white supremacy.
Calling their choices stupid is patronizing. It makes it very clear that you don’t respect their ability to determine the best route for their own struggle. That leads back to the white supremacy of “we know best” or the respectability politics of “just acclimate and follow the rules.”
If you think that people should avoid danger, you really still don’t get what their living with. When one of your people is killed every 28 hours (as just one of the dangers of being black in the USA), how much more dangerous can you get? What risks is too much? Withholding support for someone’s human rights and dignity, if you don’t approve of their behavior, is coercive; another form of oppression. Stop. We need to ask ourselves what and who this serves. When we’re talking about judging those who are resisting oppression your attempt to demand that it look a certain way or else supports the oppressor. Who are you to tell someone else what dangers they can and can’t face for their liberation?
If you want people to resist oppression without disturbing your status quo, you don’t want the end of the oppression. That is the status quo. You choose your convenience and comfort over their liberation. Everything we have in our status quo has been established on the foundation of war, genocide, slavery, sexism, racism, heteronormativity, and xenophobia and a number of other forms of oppression. None of what you consider your standard of living would be what it is without that. These are not only historical foundations. They are reinforced every day. So, if you say that you support the ending of racism, you need to support the possibility of giving up what you’ve got, being inconvenienced, being forced to struggle. You also need to accept that everything you consider “civil” or “normal” is part of the system which commits the racism. So, every aspect of it is a potential target for destruction. You’re asking other people to live with daily degradation, starvation and death in order to maintain your status quo. They’ve paid the inhumane bill for what you have. What will you pay in return? You can’t even pay them the respect of supporting their struggle without your caveats?
Moving back to last night and the first confrontation with police ….
…Actually, I’m rather exhausted and feel unable to keep writing just now. I’ll post this for today and hope to fill you in on the rest of my experience over the weekend.
In the meantime, solidarity!