17: The Protest / by LaQuann Dawson

As I rise this morning, ass and feet both equally sore, I sit and wonder what a protest actually does. Can we truly achieve effective political change by walking through streets holding signs and wasting our breath with heartfelt chants? Is that even the goal of a protest? Or is there some greater purpose other than making noise?

Union Square to Time Square March in NYC - July 9, 2016.

Last night in New York City I walked in the first protest I'd ever been apart of with so many people, with cops involved and that lasted so long. I am trying to take away a few things from this experience, as we all should. Aside a sore ass from walking 85 blocks, what do I have as result? There is a clear divide among people fighting for the same cause, those for protesting and those who believe they accomplish little to nothing. I think I can sympathize a bit with both parties seeing protesters who want to do something, anything to express their hurt, rage and desire for change (excuse the rhyme). Protesting gets the attention of the all mighty media and in turn brings some focus to the issues being faced. We can wake the city, stop traffic and chant "Black Lives Matter" for hours and hours, go home and watch all the damage we caused. More aggressive cops, some protestors  who got a little to caught up in the moment and acted out, protesters peacefully speaking their piece and still being handled and arrested. So other than making noise and getting attention, what are we doing?

I went to Union Square last night to meet with the protesters. Right after leaving a book store searching for any black authors and poets I could and even the staff could barely help me without google. What a pity. I left the bookstore with the little that I did find and immediately joined the rally of people chanting "we are human," "we matter," and other short but sweet phrases that express distain. This march when from around 7:30 until about 11:30 when we finally stopped. We walked through the streets of New York City from 14th Street to 42nd and beyond and then back. In the pouring rain, our signs soaked, cars in the streets honking with approval and cops met us at every other block to barricade us. We would turn around and go up the next block and repeat this process. At a certain point the cops caught up with us and decided to stop blocking us but to just follow us the entire way. I personally did not witness any violence but by the end of the night I heard that 15 people were arrested. The crowd towards the end of the march was significantly smaller than we'd started with but for what it was, I thought it a good march and definitely a nice little work out.

In the grand scheme of things, protesting is really just talking and sometimes a lot of walking. It isn't like a strike or a boycott in that you are actually taking something away from a company, where they need to meet your demands or else they'll be losing money or skill or something greater. With protests they don't need anything from us except for us to get out of the street. And I am sure, if we sat in the middle of the street long enough, disrupting traffic they'd handle us all, and that is less than a solution in my eyes. Protesting did not work too well for our predecessors and it is not working for us in all the ways we'd like it to. It is however, undeniable that protests grab the attention of folks, we gain some sympathizers who begin to understand why someone could be so passionate and see that a people is hurting. 

I do not know the real solutions to all of our problems and I am not yet sure what exactly will get us the justice we deserve. But I do not think that challenging police officers time and time again is the way to go. At least not like this and at least not alone. What we are doing is creating more enemies and sacrificing more lives in exchange for almost nothing except attention. Maybe that is what we want, maybe it is what we need but after we get it...then what? Enemies in cops, enemies in supporters of cops and enemies in people in traffic who just want to get home. We are all watching this movement happen and trying to figure out how we feel about it. It would be naive to ignore it. Are black people just crazy as hell and crying wolf because they see an opportunity? Are cops really this aggressive? Are they exercising protected racism freely? Is the system fucked? Are there good cops out there? Is my little brother next? How will this all end? Will it ever?

At the end of the protest in New York City last night, a fellow protester posed the question "what now? we are united now, where do we go from here?" If his question was answered, I did not hear it. But...where do we go from here? What now? Do we take the streets every night chanting the same words as the night before then just go home? Is that what will get us what we want and deserve? I believe some sort of take away is a must if we are going to get anywhere and if there is no takeaway the protest will have been a sort of failure on a personal level. How can such large groups of passionate people all over the world actually accomplish so little?

How do we fight white oppression? How do we fight racism? How do they keep getting away with it? 

We as a community need to find a way to get on the same page, at least to the same extent, we want the same thing, but as I saw last night, we are not all on the same page. Some believe good cops exist, and others believe that if they did, there would be no more bad cops. We as a community are practicing reactive behavior, after something bad happens we want to act out and do something about it. I know many individuals who work their asses off towards getting change, well before something happens but we must also be proactive. We can't keep waiting for another one of us to be shot down before we want to take the streets and find some way to get power and attention. 

Capitalism is a huge part of why we are losing right now, black people are one of the largest consumers on the planet and we simply feed the pockets of the white people who oppress us and the government that is telling us that we do not matter. I heard a few people last night, as I have heard over the past few years, that we need to actually boycott. Stop buying shit from Amazon and Walmart, stop shopping at these huge companies that run us. I am very guilty of supporting these two companies in specific because I am addicted to both and am in much debt to Amazon. One girl proposed that we boycott all public transportation on Monday and I am wondering if I am willing to risk my job and my future in New York. Such a huge part of me wants to but am I capable of skipping an entire day of work? Goodness knows I can't afford to. Amazon knows I can't afford to. Plus I already bought my weekly pass. Are people like me the problem? People who have limits on what they will sacrifice? They just might be. I am trying to imagine where we might be if we actually boycott Black Friday and didn't use public transportation for days at a time. Then I am picturing Monday morning and not even a small part of me believes that I will be the only person of color or person who supports people of color on the train. We are slaves to the system, the white pockets that feed us are controlling us and we are shamelessly allowing it.

It is easy to gather a group of like minded individuals but what are our plans afterwards and are these gathered people actually willing to execute these plans? Should protesting be kept online? Should we find ways to attack the system legally though our devices? Is street protesting a dated activity? I apologize for all of the seemingly rhetorical questions, but if you have any answers, I do welcome them. 

Before I wrap it up I'd like to comment on all of the videos and metaphors I've seen lately with the purpose of explaining what Black Lives Matter is about. I have seen videos of a guy comparing equality and the black situation in the world to being at dinner with white friends and not getting a plate. And entire skit put into child's terms to explain this. I've seen emoji equations to explain what BLM means. I want to know where it ends before people actually get it, how much more creative does it have to get before #AllLivesMatter is put to rest? 

As much as I'd like to be proud of all of us in this generation for speaking up, expressing our discontent, proud of our activists and of our musicians and of people who use their platform to help move us forward, but this isn't anything new. For years and years and years we have been oppressed and people have expressed their discontent for our society, government, economy and more through hundreds of outlets. Rappers have been writing about police brutality, racism and inequality. This is nothing new, we have been fighting this war for a long time, and losing. We accept every small victory that we can and celebrate it while our oppressors feel proud for feeding us crumbs. This is going to be a challenge for me as it will be for all of us but we need to take steps toward betterment, we need to stop feeding pockets of those who oppress us, support businesses of our people, create things for ourselves and detach ourselves from the dependent relationship that we have with our oppressors. 

This is getting long so I will wrap it up soon but I have a lot on my mind. All in all I think that is okay to peaceful protest, get our concerns out in the open and in some ways we can move a few feet forward by organizing and protesting but we need to continue this organization. We need maintain it, keep it, build upon it, become a working unit and go from there. We all want the same thing and we think we are working towards achieving it but as it stands, we are feeding into the system, doing what they expect us to do. We leave these protests without names and numbers, we unite for the moment, briefly then go our separate ways. To the Bronx and to Brooklyn, yes literally but also figuratively. We do not keep with the people who we joined for the night, this is a false organization if no one is willing to get back together again. The next protest might be all new people and from that, where is our strength? The system is miles ahead of us and still...getting away with killing our brothers and beating our sisters. 

So where do we go from here?

Serious question, where do we go from here? How can we get justice? How far away is it? How many times do we have to explain Black Lives Matter before we must accept the denial and understand the privilege that people have to not need to understand. How many blog posts just like mine? How many poems? How many Kendrick verses? How many protests? How many names? How many names? How many names?

How many names?

Union Square to Time Square March in NYC - July 9, 2016.

Union Square to Time Square March in NYC - July 9, 2016.

Stay lit and enjoy your Sunday, thank you for reading,

- Lackwhen.