Activism Isn't Easy
This past week or so I have refrained from posting on this blog or any of my social media. It has not been my place to share my own content. Even now, it feels right only to amplify the voices of others and to share my own personal experience as it relates only to the Black Lives Matter movement.
For the past week and a half, I have been to a protest almost every single day: two separate protests in Kingston, one in Poughkeepsie, a few in Saugerties, and one in Troy yesterday. I’ve noticed a few trends that I wanted to share to those who might feel nervous about attending a protest themselves.
First let me take a second to say that activism isn’t easy. And if it feels easy, then you’re not doing enough. Especially as a white person, it is completely normal and rather necessary to encounter feelings like guilt, anger, sadness, and even dissent. But in order for us all to create a better world for ourselves and for Black, Indigenous, and people of color, we MUST work through these feelings in order to understand and move through them. I am embarrassed by some of my ignorance in my earlier years towards the struggles faced by BIPOC. In my town, where the population is something like 95% white, I never really encountered struggles of racial discrimination. And stories I was told about it seemed overcooked and a world away. I could say “aw that’s so sad,” but I never really had the wherewithal to actually educate myself on the issues plaguing non-white people. But you know what, despite the embarrassment and guilt, I DID educate myself and I will continue to do so. It’s difficult to realize you were wrong. But worse than realizing you were not at your best, is realizing it and then choosing not to do something about it. It’s okay to admit past mistakes if it means that you have changed your views for the better. No one will judge you for becoming a better version of yourself!
Now on to the protests…
I’m not even going to mention the ‘riots’ because I believe that is a gross misunderstanding of the protests, the movement, and the grief and tragedy that BIPOC have faced for centuries. The following experiences are specific of small to medium sized protests, as that is all I have experienced so far, so therefore can not be representative of larger protests like we've seen in NYC. Of the four main protests I have attended this past week, each one had two main commonalities: 1) there were rumors of heavy police involvement, rioting, and plans for violence many days before the protest was even planned to begin, and 2) every single rumor always proved to be wrong on the day of the protest. I do believe that it is never a bad idea to plan for the worst case scenario, but do not let that control you. Like I said, activism isn’t easy. Fear mongering is one of the primary tools used by the side of opposition in order to try to decrease the turnout at the protests. For example, in Troy yesterday, for almost a full week beforehand, there were rumors of promises of violence on the part of protestors, which were to be met by police in full riot gear and boarded-up storefronts. The bridges to leave Troy were closed down and a 9pm curfew was set up in not one, not two, but THREE neighboring cities. To say my sister and I were nervous to attend would be an understatement. But, we went of course. It is way too important in this moment to allow fear to control our actions. And guess what happened at the protest… there was not one stone thrown, not one police person with anything more than a bicycle on hand, and it was a POWERFUL event for everyone. I am so sick and tired of all these rumors about what happens at protests. These rumors are started by people who have never been to a protest, or whose only aim is to discredit the movement and to villainize the people protesting in it. It’s bullshit.
These protests are beautiful. They are powerful. They are full of hope and pain and pure, unrestrained LOVE. I have been brought to tears at every single protest this week because despite the pain, the guilt, the centuries of discrimination and murder and hurt, people of all colors and socioeconomic classes show up in the thousands to support one another. There is strength in this, and the strength I’ve witnessed these last few weeks is nothing short of incredible.
One last thing to note about the protests, is this; from what I have witnessed firsthand, the instigators on the side of the protestors are always white. THIS IS NOT OKAY. White people do not face the same level of retaliation and punishment as BIPOC do. So, the white person that starts something with a police officer will not be punished for wrong doing in the same way that the BIPOC will. There was this white woman protesting in Poughkeepsie that was acting extremely irresponsibly. Poughkeepsie had a large number of police personnel. This woman approached them a few times to yell in their faces. She at one point also tried to break the line of officers in order to lead the masses to the police station, while she called for everyone to follow her. This behavior is not okay. She was aggravating an already tense situation, that could have potentially led to police retaliation. This woman should not have been trying to lead. White people have been in charge for too long. Our roles are to listen, empower, and protect black people, indigenous people, and people of color. If you are white, and you going to protest, follow. Do not lead. Protect. Do not provoke. And amplify the voices and stories of black people.
The purpose of these protests is to capture the attention of public officials in order to enact change. Any other narratives given to the protests distract from the goal and threaten to undermine the need for protection for our most vulnerable population.
PS, if you can’t protest for health or other reasons, make sure you are doing your part by donating, educating yourself, voting, signing petitions, calling your representatives and elected officials, confronting coworkers, friends, and family members about bias and racism, and for goodness sakes, listen to what our black community has been telling us for YEARS.