Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A Small Town’s George Floyd Protest 2020

Hope all is going well. Here in the armpit of the nation, masks have never been mandated--and rioting takes place at a minimum. Thought you might be interested in the below piece:

Michael H. Brownstein

A Small Town’s George Floyd Protest 2020

No life matters until all lives matter. Black lives matter, too.
Are we not human? Do we not love our children, eat with forks and spoons, go to school and go to work?
Give me liberty, give me justice, do I not have a right to breathe?
                    —Protest signs

We came to the protest unprepared,
expecting a few dozen at most, not the hundreds
spread across the capitol’s lawn, not the anger,
the pain, the poetry of grief, a frustration
you could wear tomorrow and never remove.
When one speaker screamed into the audience,
Why did the white people present –
and there were a great number of white people present –
do nothing to stop slavery, do nothing to stop the KKK,
do nothing to stop the lynchings of the early 1900s,
and then demanded an answer again and again, Why? Why?
I went to the middle and said I would answer.
The moderator gave me the mic and I said, We were not there,
no, we were not there during slavery, and I said my name,
and we were not there when the KKK rose up ugly,
and we were not there when the lynching began,
and, yes – and I pointed to my arm – I am of this color,
and I am here now. (I could have told of things past,
but I did not.) It is up to us to change this – this color –
and if you are here now, it is up to you – this color –
and I pointed to my arm again. You have to make the difference,
you have to make blacks your friends, you must invite them
into your home, your life, and when you see the strong black man
walking down the same sidewalk as you, know this truth,
he too can be your friend – must be your friend –
and I talked a bit more and then I got out of the way
and listened to a lot more and, finally, we took to the sidewalk,
because there was no permit, but in seconds
we swarmed into the street, too many of us,
and we, stretching over two city blocks, took over downtown,
blocked incoming cars, watched as our numbers swelled,
chanted and sang for the mile from where we began to Lafayette,
where we turned to walk to the university,
new companions, black and white, and color no matter.
When we reached the great park before the university, we stopped,
and everyone, as if we were creating a large work of art,
lay on the ground. Floyd lay like this, the organizers said,
for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. We did too,
my hands behind my back, my face in the grass,
my wife beside me, her face against my back and we chanted,
I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe.
Give me liberty and give me breath. Black lives matter.
My wife had made a speech too, talked of racism in our town,
a place I will not name – Jefferson City, Missouri –
and she spoke of the many slurs and actions thrown at her,
but no more. This was the time to make the change.
Let us come together and change it. She turned to the line of police
and said, And all of you, you are the ones who must make the change.
When the eight minutes and forty-six seconds came to its end,
everyone stood. We thought it was over and began to walk home,
but something was different now, a cloud had fallen over us,
as if the eveningsong of solution and openness had suddenly gone dark,
but it was not dark, the sky a slow concerto into nightfall,
the day’s heat more oppressive, its humidity scarring.

Why is it violence must have a skin?

The crowd did not disperse, it grew smaller, yes, but stronger too,
a strong that was ugly like those who oppress with knee and word,
and you smelled the change in the air, you felt the tear in the flesh.
A block later a group of whites and blacks stepped from the crowd
to curse the police and a block later the first rock exploded the air,
a second hit the police car, then a smoke bomb of some sort,
and I watched as a white boy ran past me –
I can’t bring myself to call him a man –
his hands heavy with missiles, his face contorted, hit its window,
cracking it, and as he readied for another throw
a group surrounded him. Then we heard the slap of ignorance –
a white girl – how can I call her a woman? – slapped a black woman,
and for a second everything turned cold and cruel,
not like the deaf musician who sees music as rainbows
or the blind poet who describes beauty with the rise and fall of melody,
but as the sudden surge of an earthquake or a breaking of stained glass.
This, too, was halted as soon as it began.
The crowd, much smaller, rolled down High Street to downtown,
and my wife and I turned to go home as a half-dozen police vehicles
lined up and followed them until no one was left to follow.
We watched for a while, then crossed the street,
and she talked to the white girl, who was not in tears, but smoking,
proud of herself and the indignity she bestowed on the protest,
and walked with us as we went home, night falling hard,
a litter of stars, a brightness of moon,
and she apologized to us, and began to cry.

Helpless I do not know if good intentions prevail among the elected, among the appointed, leaving me apprehensive that the fate ...