You Don't Have to Consider Yourself an Activist to Send a Message in the Streets
Your peace is deadly.
My boyfriend got home from work several hours after the announcement in Ferguson and it was clear to the both of us that we had to go. We had to join the march happening in Denver. We bundled up and left the house and headed for Colfax. There, we fell in with a small but mighty group of people holding signs that read "No impunity for deputized lynch mobs aka police" and "hands up don't shoot." We took over the street, lying in the middle of various intersections for four and a half minutes to symbolize the four and a half hours Michael Brown's body was left in the street last August after he was murdered.
Walking with the pack, I ran into a good friend who was an active, longtime Occupy-er. As the protest march began to dwindle and the small group turned off of Colfax and headed north on Lincoln, he instructed me to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk. He had been through enough of these protests to know that this was the time when the police wouldn't be so tolerant anymore and would start "picking off" folks and arresting them.
Luckily, no one that I saw or knew got arrested; in fact, for most of the protest I participated in, the police hung back and there was no confrontation. The only disturbing moment came from the Denver Fire Department: as we walked back down Colfax, a fire truck came flying off a side street and into the crowd. It was hard to tell which way to disperse, causing momentary panic. It was also hard not to think it was personal since the truck was seemingly going nowhere but into the crowd, no police or ambulance following it. It was disappointing.
When I sat down to write about this experience, I realized that there are a lot of places of comfort I get the privilege to write from. I write from the comfort of my own home; I write from the comfort of my own skin; I write from the comfort of my own experience.
My own experience has its troubling moments -- last night, once the march had ended, my boyfriend and I walked back to my car and a man stopped us and asked us for change. When we said we didn't have any, he yelled "tell your girlfriend she has a nice ass." Enraged, I yelled, "Fuck you, you disgusting piece of shit. Women are people, too." He came at us and we ran across the street. He was drunk and showing off his privilege. He was twice as big as my boyfriend and I. It was a fight we couldn't win. Luckily, he was too drunk to chase us and we continued to walk. I was pissed. But this was normal. Even though the viral videos about street harassment have been dissected for inaccuracies and the national conversation has died down, street harassment still exists. It is the same reason I was in the street last night -- because injustice still exists. If I were to stay an armchair activist and tweet about the injustice Michael Brown's family was served yesterday and the continuing plague of institutionalized racism my country has been experiencing since its inception, I would be exercising my own privilege. Because my privilege gets exercised every day whether I acknowledge it or not; I'm a white woman in my 30s with a run-of-the-mill appearance.
Even though I get harassed any time I step outside of my home, I still understand that as I navigate the world daily, I pass under many radars and move freely -- I can enter and exit public spaces as a choose, often areas where maybe I'm not even supposed to go, and no one stops me. No one questions my existence. This extends to my interactions with police officers -- I have never had a negative experience with a police officer. Ever. I have been stopped for minor traffic infractions and let go more times than I've been ticketed. I've never been arrested. I've called the police in times of crisis and they have helped me.
But all this means to me is that I must act. I must use what I have to act. My safe existence is a privilege. If you are like me and have these privileges too, then know that there are never enough people in the street. There are never enough people speaking out. Twitter and Facebook are easy ways for us to share our views and engage each other in necessary conversations -- but they are also easy ways to take a backseat. If you thought for one moment about going out and marching, why didn't you? Know that no one is going to be part of a revolution for you. The country that we live in should be for everyone. Until it is, we all have a lot of work to do. Even if you don't consider yourself an activist, you can still act like one and have the same effect.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.