Why I am marching with #BlackLivesMatter tomorrow

/ 28 August 2015

For all those who are wondering whether you should take part in the #BlackLivesMatter St. Paul march tomorrow, to the State Fair, please consider the following:

“Nonviolent resistance is the practice of achieving goals through symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political noncooperation, satyagraha, or other methods, without using violence” (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_resistance)

At the core of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is the conviction that Black lives matter. Which is to say, it’s an assertion of hope and resilience, in the face of widespread evidence to the contrary. It is NOT a statement that ONLY Black lives matter. (If you still don’t understand this, try reading Ta Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me).

Many people are arguing that the State Fair is not the place to protest, that the Fair is symbolic of the “great get together” that is all inclusive of MN’s diversity. But if you listen just a little bit to voices from non dominant settings, you will discover that it’s an “image” of inclusivity, not much of a reality. (Not to mention, there are many, many people who can’t afford the admission price even just to enter the Fair grounds.)

Resisting that dominant narrative, inviting people to think about who is left out from that “symbol,” is a useful exercise. I think there’s something profoundly congruent about using a symbolic form of protest, to protest a symbolic form of inclusivity.

Further, we know that nonviolent resistance works. If you need some convincing, watch this TED talk by political scientist Erica Chenoweth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJSehRlU34w

Maybe you’ve heard some version of Martin Niemoller’s poem (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Martin_Niemöller)

When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

I think, for me as a white person, this poem holds deep power. Many of us with white privilege don’t have to think about whether or not Black lives matter. We may not have deep friendships with anyone who is Black, we may not live in neighborhoods, or go to parks, or even shop at Target stores that are racially diverse. We can manage to live comfortably without ever seeing the violence being perpetrated against Black persons (or Native American persons, or East Asian persons, or Latino/a persons, or Arab persons, etc. etc. etc.)

But just because we our living structures keep us away from this consciousness, doesn’t mean that we should accept that level of ignorance.

Going to a march — or even just going to the Fair, and being willing not to hurl insults or anger at people who ARE marching — might give you a glimpse of a different reality.

Please don’t be afraid to open yourself up to new insights.

Please don’t allow your fear or discomfort or irritation to close you off to the possibility of glimpsing the hope and resilience and generativity of those who will march tomorrow.

Join us if you can. But if you cannot, please at least don’t contribute to the widespread mocking (and worse) that is going on already in advance of this march. Some of what is being said in social media is so horrible that I think it’s worth going to the march just to ensure that people recognize that such speech is NOT indicative of all of MN.

Minnesotans have a history of resistance to racism which we should be claiming, and tomorrow is one more opportunity to be part of that history. (cf. Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, MN Compass, St. Paul Foundation, Headwaters Foundation, etc. etc. etc.)

I hope you’ll consider walking with us.