Jun 6, 2020

The Protest Rally

There is something very powerful about being in the same space as thousands of other people who believe in something as strongly as you do. There is a sense of camaraderie and connectedness that is impossible to replicate in any other forum. It's why the encores at stadium rock shows are such a rush, and why public protest rallies exist. Being part of a crowd reinforces your humanity, your awareness of being part of a society rather than just an individual.

Close to 10 000 people attended the Black Lives Matter rally in my sleepy Canadian city this afternoon. It was the perfect day for a protest, warm but not sweltering, with a pleasant early summer breeze. The crowd was diverse: racially, from the darkest black to the palest white, and generationally, from the small children being pulled in wagons to the seasoned protesters like my 68-year-old mother, who could not take a knee because of her arthritis (she did try). 

Together, we raised our fists in silent solidarity, raised our signs (scribbled on cardboard or stenciled on bristol board, mis-spelled or grammatically correct, quotes and slogans and lists of the dead) and our voices (albeit muffled because of our masks). We stopped traffic as we walked down the middle of the downtown streets. (It is always a thrill to be out in such pedestrian numbers that motor vehicles are forced to yield.) Some motorists rolled their windows down and honked along to "2-4-6-8! Stop the violence, stop the hate!", while some were obviously caught unaware. We rewarded the horn honkers with cheers and ignored the others. 

I felt it was important for me to add my white, female, middle-class body to the event to prove that injustice matters, not just to the five young black women who organized the event, not just to George Floyd and the other murdered black men in America who have inspired this most recent movement, but to every human being on the planet, and I am glad I went.        

But I am uncomfortable at protest rallies, and I think I have figured out why. The very nature of a public protest means the message can get convoluted. Everyone has their own agenda and motivation. Plus, when it comes to human rights, there is no single cause. People were protesting against discrimination, police violence, racial profiling, and a certain demagogic world leader. They were suggesting defunding the police and dismantling the prison system, stressing the importance of education and justice system reform and indigenous rights. One man had a sign demonizing the prime minister (he also carried a Canadian flag and had the mouth and nose portions of his mask cut out).  

After much deliberation, I had made two signs, one stating, "COLOUR IS NOT A CRIME," and one advocating "UNITY JUSTICE EQUALITY." Despite the Black Lives Matter purpose, it was important to me to protest racial discrimination in general, as I work with mostly Asian youth and one of my closest friends is Iranian. I also didn't want to promote the ACAB argument, because I cannot morally make such absolute statements, but I do want to see violent police officers punished.  Was I perverting the intent of the protest? 

For some reason, it makes me uncomfortable to repeat someone else's words, even if those words are important and true. And I instinctively resist doing what everyone else is doing; I am not, by nature, a follower of trends or a joiner of clubs. So it was hard for me to raise my fist, hard to chant along, although I sometimes did. It was easy for me to raise my sign, because those were my chosen words. 

But maybe that's the point of doing what everyone else is doing, or at least of doing what people who are not you are doing, especially at a protest rally: to force you into a different way of speaking and acting, to force you to lose your individuality, with all its unique experiences and inherent prejudices, and recognize your role as a part of society, a critical part with the responsibility to change those parts of society that subjugate others, whomever those others may be.

Don't be afraid of being uncomfortable. And please don't stop learning and listening and helping make the world better for us all. Thanks for reading. And, as always, riot on.