“At the tender age of 6 she was arrested in a sit-in, and with that in my blood I was born to be different.” - Kanye West
Active protest is not for the faint of heart. Active protest is organized and disruptive but never encouraged. From sit ins to boycotts, active protest has been apart of Black culture since we first dreamed of freedom. For those of us brave enough to be at the front lines when yet another Black man, woman, or child is shot down at the hands of public servants, you find a different brand of solidarity. There is peace amongst the chaos, joy amongst the sadness, and strength in moments where many of us feel helpless. Protest is therapeutic.
I have attended marches before. It wasn’t many years ago when my family participated in the annual day of service and the march that marks the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in my home city. Honestly, attending these marches always bored me to death. It was a long day of adults retelling the non violent praise of MLK and his Civil Rights victory. The route was always the same and uneventful. These yearly marches are a standing highlighted paragraph that we all re-read every January. The sea of Black, Brown, and White bodies is a welcomed distraction from our work week, a holiday that get’s us away from our desk (sometimes) and out of school. After my experience last week, I’ve made up my mind that, this was never protest, only tolerance.
Last week mainstream media was flooded with newly captured video of the shooting deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Both dying on wrong end of a tax funded, state issued pistol. Police brutality is nothing new, as a country we have seemed to relive the horror of watching Black men gunned down on video time and time again. It has become asAmerican as apple pie and baseball. The death of Castile and Sterling stirred a sentiment in me that seemed to collectively spread across the country, even internationally, “Enough is enough” for most of us with limited resources and time we are left feeling helpless.
Sitting at my desk scrolling my collective timelines, as endless tears streamed down my face, feeling my blood boiling, I decided I refused to feel helpless any longer. When the Alton Sterling vigil in my city popped up in my notifications on FB I leaped at the chance to do more than cry and complain. The vigil was something out of a movie. Being held at one of the busiest intersections in Downtown Seattle, it was pouring down raining and even with the aid of a megaphone I could barely hear the speakers. A chill ran down my spine when one of the speakers welcomed a man and his family who presented them as the first cousin of Alton Sterling.
In this moment I realized how connected each of us really are, how small this world is and how even with an approximate population of 12 million every Black American is truly brother and sister. The tears began falling again. As the program moved forward another age-old dynamic presented itself. Older generation versus younger, strategic protest versus, radical protest. The organizer for this vigil was preaching a message of “All lives” coming together to end police brutality, an honorable idea but not approved by a young Black woman. From her position in the crowd she shouted that this form of politically correct protest would never work. She was silenced by those on stage. So she did what any radical would do, found her own megaphone.
After delivering a passionate speech about how the process that our activist forefathers used no longer work, that trying to pass a law worded to protect us from police brutality would only be ignored or circumvented. She moved a peaceful stationary protest to the streets and organized an impromptu march in the matter of months. As older generations looked on and shook their heads, they believed this move would hurt the collective effort of the seasoned group of organizers. I signed the petition, I spoke with the organizers, offered my information as someone willing to help and joined the growing marchers of over 1,000 people.
We chanted together, clapped together, and cheered together. We held hands and shed tears together. One thousand strangers came together for 2 men none of us knew and would never meet. Our demonstration was peaceful and warm.
This was the first time I felt peace in months, in the midst of this chaos there was stillness. There was comfort in the hundreds that surrounded me, a cheerfulness in the cars honking enthusiastically to show their support, and victory in the disruption we were causing to the congested streets. You will listen and you will acknowledge that something is wrong. That Black Lives do indeed Matter. In a sea of diversity, there was solidarity, there was love, but most of all there was understanding.
Some may not believe that protest is an effective part of bringing on change but it is at the very least an opportunity for the community to grieve as a collective. It is a chance to begin to heal wounds that are constantly re-opened. Protest is taking immediate action, instead of being overwhelmed by helplessness. There is still room for protest in modern activism, because there are still wounds to be healed and voices to be heard.