Reflections on Protest
From the upcoming book, How Many Orgasms Does It Take To Stop Dropping Bombs?
I remember marching in downtown Washington, DC against George W. Bush’s War on Iraq. Police officers were taking pictures, one of whom had a huge lens on top of what looked like a broom handle. People were hanging out of businesses, some were cheering, while others were glaring.
Then we encountered the counter demonstrators. They were giving us their middle fingers, spitting at us, screaming at us, telling us to go home, get a job, go back to Africa, America love it or leave it, waving their flags (made in China of course – you would think that the one think that would be made in America would be the flag). They were behind steel barricades, and the police were keeping them from jumping over to us.
It was 2005. By that time certain celebrities were joining the movement – Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, and Sean Penn – two of whom spoke at the rally on the Washington Mall Grounds. It was nice seeing them there, but of course they never were subjected to the treatment we got for the last two years since the invasion began. But hey, you need all the allies you can get, no matter from what background they are, so we welcomed them with open arms.
It took another year or so before public opinion finally turned against the Iraq occupation. By then, other prominent American figures grabbed the podium and were speaking against the long and protracted war that was built upon a lie about weapons of mass destruction. For me, I was so worn out from protesting, I just said, finally!
But, that is the way it has always been in the United States. Before the political consciousness becomes popular, there are always dissenters in the cold, rain, and other weather elements, small and outnumbered, vilified and cursed as unpatriotic radical fringe hippies who hate America and what it stands for. Then the rest of the country gets a clue and reacts.
So no, contrary to public perception that “Social Justice Warriors” are a bunch of validation hungry weirdos clamoring for the spotlight, doing social justice is not romantic. There is no fanfare, soundtrack music, or slick videos. Just a bunch of people fighting against injustice, and working to make this a better society. It takes years before the mainstream media does a proper story, and then it is only for their ratings.
These media conglomerates swooped down like ratings vultures during the aftermath of Baltimore’s 2015 uprising, and like Geraldo Rivera had to be told to get out because they weren’t around years prior when they were needed to report the real narratives, when communities were fighting to eradicate the many plagues that precipitated the Freddie Gray incident.
They came in, grabbed some sensationalism, and left. They have no presence at all in Baltimore. They do not report on organizations like the Youth Resiliency Institute that operates in Cherry Hill, the most challenged yet the most resilient neighborhood in Baltimore City, or Digit All Systems, that have been providing computer training and certification for students, thereby closing the digital divide, and numerous others that have been doing work in underserved communities for years.
Many Baltimore City students and organizations like the Baltimore Algebra Project not only organized, but took the State of Maryland to court for not fully funding their school system. Even after Judge H.H. Kaplan handed down a decision in the students’ favor, they still had to fight to ensure that the State did what they were ordered to do.
This debunks the myth that the youth do not care about their education. They continue to fight tooth and nail to end what is known as the school to prison pipeline – the disenfranchisement of schools, and the subsequent trajectory to crime and both juvenile detention and adult incarceration.
But if it bleeds, it leads. I’ll never forget a family member who is a teacher, and was being interviewed by a local news network about the tremendous work she does. They received a call about a shooting, and immediately halted the interview. They never returned to complete and air the story. That shooting, of course, was aired.
That is the other story that is not told, that folks who are on the picket lines are also very active in their communities, running programs, working on sustainability models, engaged with neighborhood associations and their local government. They walk their talk, not merely running from protest to protest as may be perceived.
All socially conscious movements have resulted in the benefit for all people, from Abolition to Civil Rights and beyond. So while folks lounge in their living rooms criticizing protestors on television, they work an eight-hour shift instead being forced to work 12; work and recreate with, have relationships and marry people who are of different races, as well as the same sex; and can own property and have credit cards in their own name regardless if they are a man or woman.
Granted, like everyone else, social justice folks are complex and flawed. There are elitist assholes who looked down on everyone who has not read the entire collection of Karl Marx, or does not have a comprehensive knowledge of every single political theory, and hasn’t been on the front lines of every major protest movement.
But that is with every outfit. There are great, good, mediocre, and bad folks – whether they are law enforcement, civic, sports, entertainment or grassroots organizations.
Social justice movements are not monolithic. They are as diverse as anything else. We disagree, argue, fight, resolve, ally, organize, act, rinse, and repeat.
There are a myriad of ways in which people are involved, in their own respective communities and disciplines. Some are vocal, others are behind the scenes. They are all valuable and have much to contribute.
And at the end of the day, they go to the grocery store, pick their children up from school and take them to band practice, go to a game, see an exhibit, catch a movie, or veg out in front of the television.
So when you see us out there holding up picket signs, shouting “No Justice! No Peace”, remember we are your mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins friends, colleagues, greatly passionate about what we believe in, and fighting to make sure everyone in this country has their share of peace and justice. Maybe you’ll join us, maybe not. It’s fine. You need to live your life the best way you can. Just don’t be so critical of people who are speaking up for you, especially when you are going to reap the benefits.