This whole “grateful” thing on Thanksgiving isn’t my kind of language, but I am definitely grateful to be a part of a multi-pronged movement for social justice, especially living in such a nasty, mean-spirited country. On Tuesday November 25, my friend Lucky and I joined the #BlackLivesMatter demonstration in Boston. Such demonstrations are taking places by the dozens across the USA and abroad.
I’m not going to explain any background for those who have not been paying attention to the murders – hundreds each year – of young Black people at the hands of white cops, and in particular of the murder in Ferguson of Mike Brown by a white cop who was exonerated by a dodgy, drawn-out grand jury procedure. Or why “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” is the operative slogan.
The initial rally in Dudley Square, Roxbury is inspiring. Most of the speakers from the organizing committee are young Black women, but we also hear from a lovely guy who mentions queer people, to loud applause. After 4 ½ minutes of silence at the request of Mike Brown’s parents, candles are passed from hand to hand. Once the mic is opened up, a series of young Black women spend their two minutes calling for revolution, connecting capitalism to racism and sexism, and preaching to a crowd that yelled back emotionally. Perhaps the biggest cheer goes up for the call to boycott Black Friday and to support the Walmart workers. One woman tells us, “I am a community elder. I am 54.” After speaking, she sings Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” in a clear, tender voice.
I turn to Lucky and say, “If she’s an elder at 54, what am I at 67?” A young woman standing beside me with a posse of her girlfriends is shocked. “Thank you for coming,” she says in a solicitous tone – as if I were a welcome if creaky alien. “I’ve been coming to civil rights actions since I was 14,” I answer.
We set off to march – we do not know to where. It is a long march but among the very mixed crowd are people with infants, a person using a power wheelchair, and a very fleet woman on crutches. How fabulously loud and energetic we are – hour after hour. Police estimated the crowd at 1,400 or so, but I’m sure it topped 2,000.
Back up, back up. We want free-dom, free-dom.
All these racist-assed cops. We don’t need ‘em, need ‘em.
Our arrival at the on-ramp to the Southeast Expressway brings new light to the concept of “No justice, no peace.” People would have to get on the highways via a different route on a crowded traffic day, but such temporary inconvenience cannot be compared to the racist terror so many of our people live under in the USA. Killing after killing by law enforcement. A “war on drugs” used to incarcerate several generations of people of color. Stop and Frisk laws that remind one of what Palestinians go through. Mandatory prison sentences. Crappy schools. The war on women. Reductions in benefits. Expensive health insurance. Impossible college fees. A redistribution of wealth since 2008 that has profoundly impoverished so many and stolen the homes of uncounted people.
We march along a huge dark building. Lights begin to come on one after another. It is the South Bay House of Correction, a men’s prison. The men inside are jumping up and down, silhouettes of solidarity, and we thousands yell, “Free the prisoners!" and, more poignantly, "We see you!”
The police stay out of our way. They are on roofs and down side streets, but their only strong presence is at the end of the on-ramp to the highway to keep demonstrators from actually going onto it. However, there is a cabal of white people, perhaps members of a sectarian political group, trying to hijack the demonstration with a tone that conflicts with the tone the organizers have set. One is running around repeatedly screaming into a megaphone, "White people to the front!! Black people sit down!!" While people are calling out in support to the inmates, these folks are screaming, “Come on! Let’s tear it down,” to zero response. It’s often hard to tell these more-radical-than-thou folks from provocateurs. Only their privilege allows them to come into an important community action and try to make it about their own agenda.
And of course long after the demo was over and most of the folks had dispersed, they continued the confrontation with the cops to ensure that all the media coverage would focus on them and their arrests. And it did, to my great annoyance. But if you look at the coverage, you see that they are a hundred or so. I am no apologist for police, but I’ve been forced into unwanted danger by these opportunistic non-collaborative white boys too many times in my life to want anything to do with them.
Throughout the march, people chant “This is what democracy looks like,” but it feels (other than the opportunists) to me more like “This is what solidarity looks like.” The spirit of togetherness amplifies my happiness in following the leadership of these young Black women. There has been a lot of radical activity in these last years – from Occupy to Trayvon Martin to #BlackLivesMatter – and new generations of skilled agitators are stepping up, bringing vitality and strength, and rage to the streets.
As Rev. Al Sharpton said the other day, “You have broken our hearts, but you have not broken our backs.” For all those righteous people of every age with strong backs, I am grateful.