The past few months I have found myself struggling to find the inspiration to write. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say, in fact, it was entirely the opposite. My concern, my fear, was what people would think of the things I needed to say. The words that had been burned into my mind, my heart and my soul. They were not words of neutrality or political correctness. They were not sweet or light hearted. They were gritty and rough. Caked in pepper spray, blood, and gas- the very things I choked on as I screamed them at protests. They were the words that replayed in my head night after night. The words I had to bite my tongue on when I put on my professional face and continued about my life in colors other than black.
Looking at me, you would never suspect it. In fact, many of the activists I know are nothing like what we’re depicted as. We aren’t violent criminals. We aren’t drug addicts. We aren’t uneducated drop outs. And we don’t light things on fire just to watch them burn. We are active members of our community. We have children, careers, family. We look just like you. We live lives very similar to yours, we just believe that we are responsible for standing up for what is right regardless of the consequences.
We don’t look at injustice and think “Somebody needs to do something”, we see injustice and recognize that WE are “Somebody” and that WE need to do “something”. It’s as simple as seeing our responsibility to humanity and taking action to do the right thing. I don’t think that it’s difficult to do what is right, to fight for the freedom and equality of others. I think the difficulty lies in the absence of responsibility, the absence of accountability, of having to witness the inaction of others. Of listening for their support and to hear silence; or worse condemnation.
I can no longer listen to others say “this is awful, why isn’t someone doing anything about this”, and then watch as they sit in the safety of their homes and observe, feeling like it is someone else’s responsibility to enact change. What many fail to recognize is that CHANGE is not the product of BYSTANDERS, it is the result of direct action, engagement, and confrontation. It is the result of protests, sit ins, memorials, riots, vigils…and it isn’t free. Change is paid for by the blood and tears of people who fight for it, who literally put themselves on the front lines and go toe to toe against bigotry, oppression, and hate.
I’ve heard people say that we are “just as bad” as hate groups because we do not shrink away from violence. Because we do not meet aggression with peace and flowers. We are not that generation. To those who say “violence is never okay”, I would ask you to tell me how you would respond to someone holding a weapon to you and threatening your safety? Tell me how you would peacefully exit a mob of people who literally want to beat you to death, who wish the genocide of your friends and loved ones? Tell me what you would do when they confront you in an empty parking garage? Or when they beat your friend’s head in with a metal pipe? Tell me what you would do when they threaten your life inches from your face? This is not one group seeking violence for the sake of violence, this is one group threatening violence, murder, and ethnic cleansing, while the other takes up the responsibility to ensure they are not successful.
I’ve had friends and relatives tell me “tune it out, there is only so much you can do”. I know people who decided to just turn off the tv, unplug and forget because they no longer want to see the injustice or feel the hurt. I wonder what that is like, to have the privilege to turn a blind eye to the hate and violence that is growing and spreading in our world. How pleasant and convenient that must be. I wish that I (and every other minority, LGBTQ or African American) could do the same…but we can’t just “unplug” from our everyday life. While this may be news to some people, it is a reality for us.
I don’t condemn those who are scared to fight. I won’t attack those who are not able to physically stand with us- but I will ask that you do your part, however small that may be.
- Donate to local organizations
- Train with street medics
- Train to be a legal observer
- Write blogs, zines, posts on social justice
- Speak out against hate in your social circles
- Support activists you know
- Help with childcare, transportation, fundraising
- Educate yourself on the issues
- Use social media
- Volunteer your time
No matter the circumstance, there is always something that you can do to support change. There is always a way for your voice to be heard. And the truth is, we need you. We need your help. We need your support. We need your voice. At the end of the day, it won’t be the words of hate that echo within the minds of people like me, it will be the deafening silence of people like you.