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In Protest

2014 November 26

highway shutdown


I’m not a radical. I don’t like to raise my voice. I strongly dislike crowds and loud noises. I don’t like to inconvenience anyone. So how did I end up in the middle of a crowd of 1400 protestors in Boston last night, marching to the South Bay Correctional Facility and effectively shutting down traffic downtown and on a highway connector? Because, quite simply, I felt I had to do something, and I didn’t know what else to do.

I complain all the time about the injustices of my quotidian existence: my not-so-stellar salary, my pasty skin, my inability to see anything more than five feet away when I’m not wearing my glasses. But ultimately, I am privileged. I am ridiculously privileged. I have a job, an apartment, food when I’m hungry, a supportive family, a closet full of clothes, shelves full of books, access to the Internet, healthcare, dental care, a therapist, a car that gets me where I need to go, amazing friends. I am straight. I am not fat. I am white.  I am middle class.

Lately, it feels as though everything that could go wrong in the world is going wrong. History will not remember 2014 fondly. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, CNN, the newspaper–you can’t escape the news. It’s everywhere. In just the last two weeks alone, we’ve heard nearly 20 women come forward with sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby, seen a twelve-year-old boy get shot and killed because he was brandishing a toy gun, read an expose of an epidemic of gang rape at the prestigious UVA campus, and watched the nation split allegiances over the announcement that Darren Wilson would not be charged with Mike Brown’s murder, meaning he would not stand trial. And that’s just in America.

That’s a lot of unsettling news to deal with. Where do we put our feelings, our thoughts, as we’re barraged by more and more testimonies, conflicting accounts, hateful comments, grainy video footage, and click bait headlines?

I don’t know what it’s like to be a police officer faced with someone you believe to be a threat to your safety. I also don’t know what it’s like to be Black. All I know how to be is the person I am–privileged, educated, straight, white, healthy. Regardless of all of those circumstances, I feel helpless. I feel voiceless. I feel ashamed.

I know I don’t like living in this world where people die of gun violence and drug overdoses and hunger and people are unable to see humanity in others. I don’t like knowing that the vast majority of incarcerated prisoners are Black. I don’t like hearing that Daniel Handler made a racist joke at the National Book Awards directly following Jacqueline Woodson’s win for her book of poems, Brown Girl Dreaming. I don’t like knowing that women I care about have been sexually assaulted or harassed. I don’t like feeling unsafe because I’m a woman, but knowing that it’s probably a fraction of the fear and trepidation Black Americans feel every day. I don’t like not knowing what the Black experience is like, or the Asian experience, or the Indian experience, because I wish it was all just the human experience.

So when I heard about the protests being organized around the country last night, I was compelled to go. I waffled, because I wasn’t sure what a protest could accomplish. Racism in America is a HUGE problem, and it’s systemic, and it has roots. Deep roots. What would my presence at a rally in downtown Boston do to change anything? Also, let’s be honest, I was really just tempted to go home, put on sweatpants, and watch New Girl.

But I went. I went because even if my voice is small and I am only one person, I was at least able to show my support for change, my frustration at the way things are, and my hope for the way things can be someday.

We began in Dudley Square, outside the police station in Roxbury, where we observed 4 1/2 minutes of silence in memory of Mike Brown and other victims of violence, and listened to several speakers. The speakers galvanized the crowd and encouraged us to take to the streets. The leaders of the protest announced we were going to South Bay, to show solidarity to the inmates there. We walked through Roxbury, chanting “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice, No Peace.” We eventually gathered under the windows of South Bay, chanting and raising arms to the prisoners inside as they pounded on the bars and waved. It was surreal to me, watching these young men, most of them Black, knowing they were behind bars.

I don’t know what they did to get there. I’m not saying they’re all innocent. I’m not even saying Mike Brown was completely innocent–we’ll never know. What I do know is that there is grave injustice in this country and I would love to see real change in my lifetime. I am privileged to have been able to march on the streets and chant and watch other people in those windows. I was privileged to be able to turn around and go home when I wanted to. I was privileged to have been able to participate in a peaceful demonstration and not feel like I had to fight or rage for that right.

For many, the Ferguson situation has become a question of divided loyalties–are you on Darren Wilson’s and the police’s side, or are you on Mike Brown’s and the rioters and protestor’s side? For me, the question is not that at all. The situation in Ferguson is illustrative of a larger problem–the problem of rampant racism that this country has been refusing to acknowledge for hundreds of years. And we’re not going to get anywhere if we keep pretending we live in a post-racial world just because a Black man is president.

I feel like I’m in no way qualified to comment or philosophize about these issues, but staying silent doesn’t feel like a good choice either. So here are my words, because sometimes that’s all we can give.

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. Lorraina permalink
    December 1, 2014

    What an amazing post, Jill.

    • Jill permalink
      December 1, 2014

      Thanks so much Lorraina! It was a tough one to write.

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