A Tale of 2 Protests
You have to be under a rock to not be aware of what’s going on all around us today. The civil unrest is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Like many of you, I’ve gone through an array of feelings and emotions, from, sad to helplessness, to anger, to a small glimpse of hope even.
I’ll be the first to admit that activism (at least in the traditional sense) is not my first nature. I have this kid, however, who oozes activism from her pores. I learn so much from her. She was nearly bursting to get out and protest and so we did.
On June 5th, 2020 we participated in 2 different protests. Both powerful. Both Inspiring. Yet completely different.
Our first stop was Santa Monica, California.
We walked with the people to the stairs of Santa Monica City Hall. As we walked, one thing was overwhelmingly obvious. My daughter and I were the minority. We were surrounded by hundreds of non-black people. In one word, this was ‘odd’.
The leaders of the protest were POC, and in the crowd I observed a few more black people but that was it. I was walking alongside a bunch of fired up (mostly white) protesters screaming BLACK LIVES MATTER! They were charged! They were fervent! And they were loud! Often times much louder than me. I was overwhelmed with emotion more than once. I felt surrounded by love and all things good. I felt supported.
When we got to the steps of City Hall many speakers took the bullhorn. It was an open mic of sorts, where any protester could come up and offer their thoughts on what they believe needs to happen to bring about change.
Several people spoke about recognizing their privilege. This was astonishing to witness!
One young black girl spoke and connected deeply with my daughter. She talked about going to school in Santa Monica and always needing to explain or defend her blackness. She was burdened by the desire to prove she was not white-washed while also trying to prove she was truly black. She expressed what it was like to grapple with teachers that would assume she would be academically incompetent and then watch them be genuinely surprised when her work proved otherwise. Yall! This baby was only 13 years old!
As we sat, I observed how all the people (signs down now), sat quietly and listened. Everyone would cheer on queue when prompted but mostly this was a very quiet, calm, captive audience. This was immensely a white protest, albeit a very good one. I kept thinking how happy I was to see so many non POC out there taking a stance against racism. I was full.
Our next stop was Long Beach, California.
The overwhelming first observation is that the demographics were different there. MUCH different! There were easily thousands of black and brown people everywhere. For the several hours we were there, we never saw a beginning or an end to the crowd. It was seemingly an endless sea of people.
There was singing. Call and response with rhythmic excellence. There was even a break out of dancing at one point. My people! And something happened in Long Beach that moved me beyond words, thousands of people sang happy birthday to Breonna Taylor. Talk about a MOMENT! Wow! I do believe she heard us.
We eventually came to a stop on a small, street. Way too small for the size of the crowd, I thought. A Black Lives Matter leader stood on a car and spoke. I was moved by this young lady who goes by the nickname, Future. There was one thing she said that I’ll take with me forever. She told a story about a time she traveled to speak in another state. Apparently, the atmosphere of the gathering that day was enraged and there was concern for her safety. In her time of need, she found herself surrounded by a swarm of men from the Nation of Islam. They were big, clean-cut, stern men in bow ties and they presented their bodies as protection for her small frame.
Future is a gay woman. If you know anything about the Nation of Islam, they have a long history of denouncing homosexuals. The lesson Future taught that day was powerful. She encouraged us all to stop being divided by the things we can’t agree on and get united on the huge topics that matter to us all. That experience changed her heart. Her sexuality wasn’t in question that day. Those beautiful black men of the Nation of Islam loved and protected her.
As the next speaker took the bullhorn she explained why we were on this small street. We were gathered in front of the home of Long Beach mayor, Robert Garcia. Ahhhhhhh! Now I get it! This awkward location was a deliberate act of protest. We were demanding change on the literal doorsteps of the mayor. Powerful!
We walked around the city of Long Beach for no less than 4 hours. The sun had set. It was getting cold and there was no end in sight.
This protest was different from what we experienced earlier in the day. There was a passion and a rage present in Long Beach that just wasn’t present in Santa Monica. It’s hard to explain but simply put, there was a clear contrast when protesting with the people who actually experience racism all the time. Our pain is palpable, our protest is surely rawer and more gut wrenching.
Unfortunately both cities showed signs of prior days of looting. However, only in Long Beach did we notice boarded up stores covered in beautiful tributes. The murals were everywhere confirming what I already knew, that in times of pain people literally bleed art. There were countless paintings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
The various works of art were created on the boards used to cover broken windows. I couldn’t help but think that those boards would come down one day, then what? I wonder what will happen to that art when the windows are repaired. It’s kind of symbolic that those tributes will not stand. Their images will be removed long before their beauty wore off, just as those actual lives were cut short much too soon.
When the windows are repaired what happens to the art? What happens to the protest?
As others have stated I too will echo, this feels different. I choose to believe change is here.
My daughter and I were both impacted that day. We experienced 2 different protests. Both moving. Both necessary. Both important for change.