Protests Don’ts and Do’s

“How does standing on a bridge yelling about police violence in Des Moines help Black folks in Baltimore?”

“Okay, this is all well and good, but what are the next steps? When are we going to take action?”

“It’s hypocritical for folks who’ve never said or done anything about police brutality before to suddenly show up, holding a sign as if they care now.”

“What does a protest accomplish anyway? Does it really do any good?”

These kinds of questions seem to swirl around calls for people to show up at protests. I’ve heard them with increased frequency in my own contexts since protests of police violence against black and brown communities began to garner pervasive national attention last August.

Three concessions I make to such questions:

  1. Protests don’t (alone) generate legislative solutions or changes in laws.
  1. Protests don’t (alone) lead to concrete outcomes and social change.
  1. Protests don’t only attract the folks who are also willing or able to do the longer, harder and tedious work of strategizing, organizing and sustaining long-term campaigns for genuine social change. Lots of folks may show up for a one shot, hour-and-a-half event and leave feeling good about their contribution. And yes, for those living everyday the violence a protest is designed to challenge or for those actually doing the longer, harder, tedious work social transformation also requires, that reality can be disheartening, frustrating, annoying or infuriating.

But there are a whole bunch of things protests do.

These “do’s” deserve to be named so it’s clear why continuing to show up with our bodies in places as demographically and geographically remote from Baltimore, Maryland as is Des Moines, Iowa (the city where I live) is critically important.

  1. Protests do break silence.
  1. Protests do create visibility.
  1. Protests do impact local climate.

The physical act of standing together in public where other people can actually see you has the potential to impact a local climate. This is especially the case when folks do it often, loudly and with as many bodies physically present as possible.

When people visibly observe folks holding signs that read “DES MOINES 2 BALTIMORE #BLACKLIVESMATTER” they are forced to wonder—if only for a moment—what the violence in Baltimore has to do with the experience of people in their own communities.

When people publicly witness folks dropping a banner over a bridge that crosses the interstate they may wonder—if only for a moment—what could generate such strong feelings that anyone (let alone 100 or 200 someones) would take the time, put in the effort, and risk the rain to do something with so little “utility.”

It’s worth the effort to get folks wondering these things.

  1. Protests do break silence.
  1. Protests do create visibility.
  1. Protests do impact local climate.

Nope, chanting #blacklivesmatter doesn’t end police violence against black and brown communities today.

But today protests break silence wherever they take place.

Protests do insist, out loud that someone here in this place (wherever that place is) and in this moment (whenever that moment is) will not be complicit in the silence that cloaks in invisibility the violence that has allowed this epidemic to continue for so many decades and the resistance communities of color have been waging against it for as long.

  1. Protests do break silence.
  1. Protests do create visibility.
  1. Protests do impact local climate.

Protests generate pressure in the local climate. This is critical to the success of activists who are organizing for specific outcomes and concrete policy changes. (And, let’s be clear: usually in places where protests are being organized, such longer and more tedious work is also being done.)

When legislators function in a climate where sustained protest is on the radar—in places where locals are repeatedly and vocally engaged in protest—they are exposed to yet another message about what their community cares about. That they will come to consider (maybe subconsciously at first but with more consciousness over time) the ways initiatives and legislation on their desks will play out in regard to the issue now on their radar because of protests’ visibility is, of course, not a sure thing.

But one thing is sure: if we don’t break silence the message is communicated clearly that their community doesn’t care about these issues. And black and brown people cannot afford for any one of us who does care to send that message.

  1. Protests do impact the people that participate.
  1. Protests do connect people to each other.

The ongoing onslaught of deadly violence against black and brown peoples threatens each of us, in our different locations and personal relationships to such violence, with despair and loss of hope. This itself can be deadening.

But stand on a bridge with others similarly outraged and grieving. Listen to semi-trucks and cars on the interstate below blaring their horns in support as they pass under a sign reading “DES MOINES 2 BALTIMORE #BLACKLIVESMATTER.”

This kind of experience is critical, spiritual nurture that enables us to engage in other kinds of ongoing action and resistance.

Protests function to remind our souls of this: We are not alone. And we do not accept the conditions of this current existence.

  1. Protests do communicate to the communities that know themselves, right now, to be most immediately and directly under siege (from Ferguson to Baltimore to Flatbush) that their resistance and struggle for liberation is being witnessed. Protests communicate, “we hear you; we see you; we acknowledge your struggle. You are not alone and we do not accept the conditions of your current existence.”
  1. Protests do communicate to the communities within a local context that also knows themselves, right now, to be most immediately and directly under siege (from any black community in any location to any in any other location) that “we hear you; we see you; we acknowledge your struggle. You are not alone and we do not accept the conditions of your current existence.”

Protests don’t accomplish everything.

They certainly don’t accomplish any of these things on this “do’s” list perfectly.

But nothing worth doing is accomplished by only one kind of activity alone.

In times such as this we need many, many kinds of strategies, multiple ways to show up and insist not only that #blacklivesmatter, but that these movements will not rest until the nation through and through recognizes that #blacklivesmatter.

11127720_10153790973444428_6275457870840895846_n

Advertisements
Comments
One Response to “Protests Don’ts and Do’s”
  1. K.C. Wise says:

    Reblogged this on Black. Bunched. Mass. Mom. and commented:
    Important questions, important answers. when I see truth well written, I share. If you haven’t followed this blog yet, you should. I am never disappointed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Blog Visits

    • 132,008 hits
%d bloggers like this: