Tired of the Black Lives Movement?
I haven’t re-laced my Chuck Taylor’s after St. Louis County police made me remove them so I didn’t “off” myself in jail. Or whatever. That’s one of the downsides to standing in solidarity on an eight lane highway in rush hour traffic to raise awareness that Black Lives Matter. Still. Highway I-70 is the road of white flight for those St. Louisians more comfortable living segregated from people who don’t look like them, or those who prefer to eat at Olive Garden. The STL HW I-70 shutdown protest honoring the murderversary of Michael Brown almost didn’t happen because at the last minute there were not enough white allies on the front lines to pull it off. Police facing white allies are much less likely to resort to violence. I don’t know the final number of people it took to shut down the highway, but though I’m disappointed more white people didn’t come through, it does prove that a small number of dedicated people can change the world, even if it’s just for forty minutes. I remember thinking that shutting down the highway in October 2014 was an extreme form of protest. Almost a year in, I don’t think it’s extreme enough. It’s too depressing to research how many unarmed black citizens died at the hands of police during the intervening year.
Friends and strangers have criticized my participation in the action for endangering lives, disrupting schedules and making people late for stuff. I’m just guessing here, but I think any employer or sentient person would understand if you were late because you chose not to run over protesters to make a meeting. We aren’t protesting for something so trite as the right to carry an assault rifle into an amusement park. We are protesting the government, through the police, killing unarmed black people without cause or remorse. Is protesting for basic human rights not worth forty minutes of delay? Is your time really worth more than Black lives? Would you make the same argument if you had to stop on the highway because of a collision, maybe even a fatal one? The people whose lives were in the most danger were the protesters, mostly women, who knowingly risked being run over by cars. There was little, if any, danger to the inconvenienced motorists. There was also little danger to the heavily-armed, professionally-trained, protest-savvy 70+ police officers performing their duties to dis-assemble unarmed chanting citizens.
A lot of people do not understand what a “peaceful” protest is. Protest, by definition, is not polite or quiet. It Protest is frequently disorganized and arises out of passion, despair, hopelessness, love and anger. “Peaceful” means that protesters are not throwing projectiles nor engaging in behavior that could physically harm another person. Protests are intended to raise awareness by provoking a response from those who sympathize but don’t act, and those who don’t care, to think twice.
I don’t know if shutting down HW I-70 will ultimately lead to change, but I’m encouraged we are all still talking about it three days later. The thousands of drivers on that highway told several thousand more about the (absurd) #BlackLivesMatter protesters shutting down the highway with their bodies. News ratings soared. A friend living in Shanghai emailed that she’d seen my photo in the news. The Movement isn’t going to make advances if the media doesn’t amplify their message.
Does the message get lost by protester actions? Unfortunately, all the time. Is that a reason to stop protesting? No. Are we learning as we go? You bet. Are we making any progress? Incrementally.
No one said this would be easy, painless or speedy. It is simply our duty.