Protest Part Five: weary, wary, and working together
I was guilty of the thing I loathe: letting the misbehavior of a few drown out the positive actions of the many, but when I got home from another night of protest last week, with memories of fighting and looting in my head and anxiety in my bloodstream, I was close to giving up. Not giving up in my belief that America can do better, nor in my desire to see that happen, but giving up on getting off my ass and into the street to show it.
That night, when someone would throw a rock at a store window, a dozen voices would respond “This is a peaceful demonstration!” “Stay nonviolent!” “Keep it political!” But the scenes lodged in my mind’s eye were the three fights, the blood, and the police, riot gear out from the beginning, well worn now, barking orders and aggression. The “less lethal” guns in their hands that have been sending peaceful protesters to the hospital lately. And always, the helicopters thudding around overhead; as far as I can tell, it’s usually one police and three or four news agencies. Both focus only on the kernels of chaos. And despite my best efforts, so was I.
Then Saturday happened. The MillionsMarchOakland demonstration downtown, 2:00 PM, the daylight bringing out the peaceful masses and burning away the murky chaos. Souls from every demographic particular came out to walk together, talk together, say together that something is wrong. It was among the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
The news helicopters were up there again, orbiting, and I wanted to shout “Are you filming now? Are you seeing this? Are you witnessing the desire, of all of us, for justice? For safety? For accountability and trust? For progress? Are you reporting? Are you doing your part to show the world that the responsible, admirable voices of the many outnumber the rash violence of the few? Are you helping us make change?”
Unity all around me, I felt uplifted, reassured, and restored to my belief that we do care, and that we can speak. None of this is to say that it was perfect. These were still just people. Humans. With this much passion, this much anger and history, one cannot expect perfect calm.
On Saturday I saw words, love, mutual support, and cooperation. And patience wearing thin. I believe humans are peaceful. I am peaceful. But how many candlelit protests can one attend that are met with no response from the politicians but silence, from the media but misrepresentation, and from the police but rubber bullets, before one looks to other, more overt means of being heard?
Is it possible that the system will wake up and take sufficient steps, before the fires spread? Start with the no-brainers: end the militarization and impunity of police. Get back to a level where residents and officers see each other as humans, not potential (inevitable?) adversaries. THIS! This is what we need to see! Richmond is proving the obvious here, that when officers know they will be held accountable for their actions, and are placed in an environment of mutual respect with the community, these shootings will decrease.
Start there, then we can address the deeper issues. Obama is taking a first step. How are you going to help? How should I? Two thirds of you said everyone should protest, nobody said to smash shit, and no one said there was no need to do anything. If two-thirds of any town got out and marched? That would make the news. (And your participation will inject fresh hope and patience into a movement that is running a little low on both.)
I’m daydreaming again, but peaceful demonstrations have that effect on a person. Go out and feel that optimism, touch that participation, and hear your voice asking for a better world. And let me know how it feels.