WE’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE, OR HAVE WE?

In memory of John Lewis, whose principles remained rooted in fairness, whose words chided the powerful and uplifted those without privilege, whose actions were nothing short of eloquent.                     

NOTE: My last blog, Excuse Me While I Burn A Few Bridges, elicited more than a few reactions. I appreciate all of the responses that arrived as well as the discussions that have begun in the aftermath of that essay, and I plan to return to the issues I raised in that essay in next month’s blog.

The word “Here” in this blog’s title refers to the days and weeks that follow an unjustified murder of an American citizen of color at the hands/knees of a police officer.

I assume most of us don’t know the exact number of people who have suffered these violent, unnecessary deaths, because some of the incidents are ignored and others are mislabeled, by accident or design.

“Here” follows a familiar pattern. Grief joins the frustration felt by people whose lack of sufficient income forces them to defer their material and inspirational needs. The union of grief and frustration bursts into roiling anger and propels a collective of heretofore voiceless people into the streets.  The air becomes saturated with broken glass, fire, smoke, teargas, gasoline and screams. Clothing, groceries, electronics, and other goods are taken from the shelves of stores whose broken windows make way for quick legs and even quicker hands that fill empty arms with merchandise to be used or sold by its new owners.

As the smoke clears, the perennial pot-riot chorus begins to chant.

“Why are they destroying their own stores? Where are they going to leave their babies now that they’ve burned down the daycare center? How will they ever get ahead? What a shame.”

We’ve all been here before, right? We’ve watched throngs of people, some seeming to be out of control, and others who march peacefully alongside their pain and frustration. We’ve admired the tenacity of the peaceful and flicked from our shoulders that fleeting notion that we should be out in the streets with them. Right? We’ve read their signs and the angry expressions that contort their faces. Right? This is all so familiar, one more rerun of past protests. Right?

Maybe not. Maybe there’s something different about these marches and marchers.

When we peek past the virus-preventive masks, we see faces of all colors. We see raised fists representing different races, ages, and gender identities. At times the white fists seem to outnumber those of color.

 

protester holding a sign

person wearing blue long sleeved shirt while raising hands

So, have we been “here” before?” Is this “here” reminiscent of the Freedom Riders and  those brave souls who marched across the Pettus Bridge in Alabama? Does this “here” remind us of the Stonewall Rebellion that incited the LGBTQIA struggle for equal rights? Do today’s marchers reflect their grandparents who took to the streets during the turbulent 1960’s?

 

crowd of protesters holding signs and kneeling

 

I hope today’s “here” is a response to the ever-increasing evidence that many of our nation’s elected figures carry malice in their hearts, intentions, and acts. I hope today’s “here” is the rebirth of the coalition of Americans who nominated and twice elected Barack Obama. I hope these marchers signal the existence of a new social-racial-economic equality movement, a movement we very much need in order to restore our nation’s sanity and fealty to the U.S. Constitution.

We’ve been “here” before, but we must work to make this a new and different “here.”

 

Renée Bess is the author of five novels published by Regal Crest Enterprises, and the co-story collector of the Goldie Award winning anthology, OUR HAPPY HOURS, LGBT VOICES FROM THE GAY BARS, published by Flashpoint Publications. She is one of the recipients of the 2019 Alice B. Readers Appreciation Award. http://www.reneebess.com

© Renée Bess, 2020

9 comments

  1. As my mother would say, from your mouth to god’s ears. Wouldn’t it be great if this really did herald in a new reality and real progress. I haven’t lived in this country long enough to know what it felt like in the previous times of protest, but I certainly hope this time can lead to change. I want to be optimistic, but struggle with it. I think of how women today are “discovering” Me Too, as if we hadn’t done all that work in exposing sexual assault in the early days of the second wave women’s movement. I think about how people are “discovering” white privilege as if some of us weren’t talking about it 20 years ago (I published a column about it in the 1990s that got reprinted in several newspapers) and I wonder. But truly, I hope with all my heart that things can change.

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    • Thanks for reading my post, Alison, but here’s the deal. I am more alarmed than optimistic. I keep holding up “hope” as if it were a weapon shielding me from my pessimism. The minute after I clicked “publish” and posted this blog, I saw last night’s videos from Portland, Oregon. The Federal [storm] troopers face-off against the Mayor and the protesters is reminiscent of the world’s darkest era. I am worried. Truly.

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  2. We ARE in a different “here” now, Renee. I have come to believe that. Watching what is going on in downtown Portland is eye-opening and amazing. The Wall of Moms has been down there the last few nights (along with the Dads with Leafblowers ), and still, the women were smacked around, pushed, and tear-gassed. Even the mayor was abused and gassed last night by the feds.

    Something new is in the air though. I’m reminded of news anchor Howard Beale in the 1975 movie NETWORK when he said, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” We have a LOT of young people, people of all colors, including a quite large proportion of white people, marching and protesting who can’t take it anymore. WON’T take it anymore. Thanks to cell phones and social media, at long last the spotlight is shining on the hatred, bigotry, cruelty, and violence against People of Color–and against allies, queer people, protesters, visionaries, and all those who seek justice and equality.

    This is the most sustained and enduring period of protest that I have seen in my six decades on the planet. It must continue! The powers that be must listen and respond to the call for fairness. Violence is never the answer, even if Tinpot Dictators continually use that method. Violence only begets violence. Love begets Love.

    Each one reach one. Each one teach one. All of us need to stand together for all of our brothers and sisters, especially those of color. Now that the veil has been removed and white America is actually SEEING what’s been ignored or unknown for so long, we can’t turn away. Major change has to happen – otherwise we are going to lose the democratic principles that will uphold a just society . . . but it doesn’t have to be that way if only people will care. March and Vote! Write letters of protest and Vote! Stand up for those being treated unfairly and Vote! Get to know People of Color — and others as well: disabled people and poor people and those who are downtrodden in any way be it financial, emotional, physical, psychological. And Vote!

    This is a time when we cannot let the moment pass. It can’t be swept under the rug and forgotten AGAIN. It’s critical that we stand together. Never forget:

    First they came for the Communists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Communist

    Then they came for the Socialists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Socialist

    Then they came for the trade unionists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a trade unionist

    Then they came for the Jews
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Jew

    Then they came for me
    And there was no one left
    To speak out for me…
    –German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

    So let’s all speak for others. Stand up against unfairness. Give support…and resources…and medical help. Make a difference in whatever small way you can. Over 300 million tiny gestures can add up to a major movement!

    And please – VOTE!

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  3. What a powerful response this is, Lori! Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts. Covid-19’s twists and turns will influence my decision to work or not work at the Polls in November. NOTHING will prevent me from VOTING!

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  4. This is my third try to post a response to your well-considered blog. Word Press stymies me. I am letting Susan Rice speak for me (via WAPO) since my attempts are forever lost.
    Susan E. Rice: The former Obama White House national security adviser has steadily crept up this list. This week, she authored a New York Times op-ed arguing that the George Floyd protests are a momentous opportunity, but “this incipient movement also risks being reduced to a fleeting instant of heightened consciousness, one that dissipates in the fog of pandemic, economic recession and a bitter presidential campaign.” She added that while polls show increasing sympathy for the cause, much of the progress “has been symbolic or superficial.”

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    • I watched that interview with Dr. Rice and I respect her opinion. I remember her lamenting the phrase “ defund the police.” She believes it’s too radical an expression, and one that is open to misunderstanding. I do hope that today’s protesters will prevail. Right now, it looks like the squad sent by trump and Barr-all-laws to Portland and Seattle will goad the protesters on.

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