Yesterday morning marked another neo-David and Goliath tale. Of people—small, regular people—young, old, pregnant, handicapped, female, male, trans, gay, queer, black, white, Latino, Filipino, Asian, Syrian, feminist, the list goes on—taking on The Giant.
On the cusp of Martin Luther King day—and 96 hours of direct action honoring his legacy—hundreds of protesters hailing from dozens of organizations, began their morning at the Montgomery BART station in San Francisco at 7 AM. Wielding signs. Screaming chants. Banging spoons. Being seen and heard.
Dubbed BART Friday: No Business As Usual, their call to arms was announced on Facebook, demanding:
1. The disbanding of the BART police
2. Restitution for the people: low-income ticket discounts
3. The dropping of charges and ransom against the Black Friday 14. (Which refers to the 14 activists who were arrested on Nov. 28th for chaining themselves to the West Oakland BART stop.)
Meanwhile, over in Oakland, hundreds more gathered around the Federal Building, locking it down on both entrances, the protesters' arms bound together in a semicircle surrounding the door.
This gathering and lockdown is where I found myself and what I will try to bear witness to today. As a white person. As a woman. A journalist. A resident of West Oakland. I watched as people gathered for 4 hours and 28 minutes; Michael Brown's body lay on the street for 4 hours and every 28 hours a black person dies at the hands of "police, security, or vigilantes in this country."
While both arms of the protest were designed as a response to the Anti-Police-Terror's call-out to "Reclaim King's Legacy" all weekend and as a direct confrontation of police brutality, systemic oppression, and imperialism, Oakland's gathering was touting an additional message of solidarity: #thirdworld4blackpower. There the people gathered against all incarnations of injustice, subjugation, marginalization, and oppression around the world; the negligence and brutality of police and military forces everywhere.
Here in Oakland. Syria. Asia. Palestine. Africa. Mexico. The Caribbean. Latin America. Everywhere. Here and now and in the past. To acknowledge the blood and suffering of those who came before us and those who are bleeding and suffering as we speak.
There was a call for everyone to know and understand that it's our right and duty to fight for freedom. To refuse to be separated. To transcend the smaller narratives of sorrow and funnel them together into a force so strong it simply cannot and will not be ignored, placated, or pandered to.
The previous week's protests throughout Oakland and Berkeley—including Black Friday 14—have openly decried and denounced grand jury decisions to let off Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, who robbed the lives of Michael Brown and Eric Garner respectively.
But of course, these movements, in turn, also stand on the shoulders of those who arguably, have set a new wave of civil rights into motion: the people and organizations who've been relentlessly protesting, writing, and rallying since the senseless, shameful snake nest of George Zimmerman's acquittal on Trayvon Martin's murder first reared its head on July 13, 2013.
While you can indeed trace the victories of protests pasts, feel the collective momentum of the people moving forward, the undeniable prejudice and inequality that still plagues us—here and abroad—serves as a stark and harrowing reminder of the journey ahead.
As Common said when he and John Legend accepted the sole Golden Globe Award nabbed by Selma, a universally celebrated film, the first to examine closely the life of MLK and the Civil Rights movement egregiously snubbed this awards season—for their original song "Glory": "Selma has awakened my humanity. We look to the future, and we want to create a better world. Now is our time to change the world. Selma is now."
The struggle continues.
The black experience is something I, as a white person, will—and can—never know. As my dear colleagues and comrades—Jetta and Kelley—have written, mused and proffered before me, it is crucial not to commandeer the narrative of this struggle.
We, by definition, won't ever understand what it's like to wake up every day of our lives and be silenced. To live in fear. To have been forged by and forced into a system that not only doesn't represent or protect you, but actively oppresses your political and economic agency, your visibility. To be expendable by the government, by the police, by the very forces that claim to serve and keep you from harm.
Our voices are not the important ones in this movement.
Our role is in bearing witness. In listening. In amplifying the marginalized voices as loudly and humanly as possible.
This struggle has nothing—should have nothing—to do with my ego, my feelings of impotence.
Although the ignorance and cruel complacence overwhelms.
On the No Business As Usual Facebook page in response to BART being shut down:
"Thank you for disrupting the lives of thousands of innocent people."
"Bunch of morons disrupting the lives of people that have nothing to do with whatever you're protesting."
They don't want the "inconvenience." They don't want to feel guilty. Or confused. Or uncomfortable. Well black people don't want to die. They want, they need, justice.
Being complicit in a system this broken, this racially oppressive, hateful and seemingly without any accountability, is indeed a place of skin-crawling discomfort.
But this means we must not shirk our collective societal shadow. We cannot just slip into the sun—over there!—where it's warm and chock full of singing sparrows is to collectively raise the next gun in the face of the next innocent black victim.
To relegate these protests to some sort of nebulous anger—"whatever you're protesting"— and actually believe your 9-to-5 routine shouldn't being "disrupted" on the account of racially-charged murders, is to spit in the face of our brethren.
To my fellow white folks, let us try our damnedest to just stand beneath and beside people of color. Watch and listen. Relish the wind of their voices, the heat of their fists raised into the air.
Let us all take this weekend and forge it in progress.