It has been a while since I wrote my last blog post, but today it felt warranted. I never used to consider myself to be a political person. To be honest, I have had very little faith in the political process since I can remember caring about it in the slightest. Watching politicians on TV made my stomach hurt; they felt dishonest, sleazy, and power hungry. And if I’m being completely truthful I still have very little faith in our political system. I believed in Bernie Sanders because he was unlike any politician I had ever seen—no slime, no manipulation, no slipperiness. But unfortunately, this is exactly why he was unable to survive.
Regardless of what I believe about the (dys)functionality of our political system, I do believe that with enough support, politically mobilized citizens have the capacity to effect change, as has been seen over time with emancipation, the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panther movement, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, etc... Politicians I’m not so sure about, but people, I believe in.
Quick overview: systemic racism is a real problem in our country. Black men are incarcerated for much lesser crimes and are sentenced to much longer terms than white men. 1/3 of black men will spend time behind bars during their lifetime. Driving while black is a legitimate reason to pull someone over in the eyes of many police. Systems of educational tracking pigeonhole minority students into remedial classes so that they are unable to gain the same education as their peers, which denies them access to the same opportunities that privileged white children get like going to college in preparation to get a good job and have a successful life. White privilege is real, whether or not you choose to acknowledge it.
My knowledge of these things and my utter disgust with the events of the past several days (and, to be more accurate, events over the course of all of the U.S. history), implored me to participate in a Black Lives Matter peace walk near Prospect Park in Kansas City, Kansas last night. This was something that was in my power to do, and any excuse I could have come up with to not go—my own fear, my unwillingness to do the harder thing, etc.—would have been just that, an excuse.
I arrived a little after 9 PM, just as the sun was setting over Kansas City, expansive, billowy cotton candy clouds hovering over half of the skyline, separating the darker space of the sky from the lighter. I pulled up to the church where everyone was meeting and walked up to the group just as they were getting ready to leave. There were about 40 or so people in our group, while the other group that was probably twice as big set off in the opposite direction. People held up signs with messages like “Black Lives Matter!” with Black Power fists for the “a” in black and the “i” in lives. We walked, and someone with a megaphone in the front of the group began a series of call and response chants: What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it? Shut it down! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!
When we first began this walk, I felt very out of place. There were quite a few other white people in the group, but like me, they walked in silence. I think all of us felt unsure of what form our participation should take in this situation. Walking was enough, right? Our voices weren’t necessary, right? I continued to walk silently for several blocks, until something in me shifted and I decided that no… this was not enough. My voice was needed. I tentatively started to chant along, my voice cracking a little: No justice, no peace. No racist police. Black lives matter.
The further we walked, the louder my voice grew until I literally found myself shouting at the top of my lungs. As we continued to walk and chant, people drove by in their cars and honked at us in solidarity, sticking their fists out of windows to form the Black Power symbol. We continued to chant, Out of your cars and into the streets! And spectators did get out of their cars, some of them even joining us. Several people stopped to take photographs, putting their emergency lights on to park in the middle of the street and snap pictures on smart phones.
Our march led us to a KCPD police station, with all of us gathering on the steps to continue chanting and, eventually, stopping to share stories individually. One man relayed that his house was broken into earlier in the day and that after calling the police to report the burglary, he was put on hold for 15 minutes before being told that they were simply too busy and couldn’t get to him right now. Another woman shared that she was a single mother, trying to raise two children on her own. When she had asked her 11-year-old son if he wanted to come with her to this peace march, he responded that he felt safer at home. An eleven-year-old boy said this. An eleven-year-old black boy feels scared to leave his home to participate in a peaceful protest with his mother because he fears for his life in a country that should be protecting him. As people went around the group telling stories, tears welled up in my eyes. I felt more connected to these people than separate. I felt no fear, only love. And sadness. For what our country has done to create hateful, fear-based relationships that can really only be dismantled by meaningful, face-to-face connections. I see lots of shades here tonight, someone called out over the group. And I want you to know that I see you, I appreciate that you are here, and this is the answer.
We stood together in solidarity and faced the police monitoring our peaceful protest, shouting, Hands up! Don’t shoot! By the time we got back to the church, our bodies were tired- our feet hurt and we had blisters, we were exhausted and thirsty- but our eyes were bright and alive. Out of a society that strives to instill hate and fear and uncertainty and displacement, we created trust and love and solidarity and truth. We created respect. And this is what all of us MUST do. This is not a choice, this is our obligation to each other as human beings.
This is what democracy looks like.
|The beginning of the march.|
|Hands up; Don't shoot.|
|We will not forget. We will be heard. We want justice.|