“Don’t people know these protests are destroying our Nation?!” “Yeah! And for what? Nothing!”
Think about that for a moment. I have. These are just two of the comments, among many, that resonated right through me, like winter’s midnight chill that shivers through your bones. Over the past weeks I have watched the news, read articles, posts and comments on social media, and have had many conversations. You can hardly get away from it. Not that I think we should.
African-Americans have suffered one horrific form of racism or another for generations, yet they are not allowed to raise their voices, or feel anger. Kidnapped from their homes, forced slavery, beatings, rapes, torture, owned and sold like cattle. This is how they were welcomed to the land of promise. Then came the lynching, segregation, legally sanctioned murder, red lining, imprisonment, systemic racism. Now they are told “…get over it, it’s in the past. None of that happens today.”
No, not today, as our nation still weeps for the unarmed black men that lie dead in crimson streets. Another knee on another neck. Slaves might have been something left behind by our Founding Fathers, but so was the gift of the right to assemble, to raise millions of voices as one and finally be heard. Black lives do matter.
With so much in the news about the protests and looting, and all the controversy, I kept finding more and more articles to read. While comparing different protests in different cities, some began to stand out more than others. In one instance, Adams and Edes had instigated a large group of protesters to riot and cause thousands of dollars of property damage. During this riot, Mr. Young was among those arrested and was beaten near to death while in custody. Local law enforcement had to be certain to make an example of what happens to protesters.
Obviously, more protests and riots followed for weeks on end. It would seem, when people are made to feel oppressed, unheard, grossly mistreated, they eventually rise up and make their voices heard. Now, some reading this will assume “those thugs” got what they deserved. However, it is quite amazing how much our perspective changes when we truly understand what motivates people to act out of such desperation, or anger. Those three gentlemen were white and are highly revered in our history books as Samuel Adams, Benjamin Edes and Thomas Young, three members of The Sons of Liberty and orchestrators of The Boston Tea Party.
Looking back over the history of our nation, nearly all great political or social change has been sparked by a protest movement born within a minority. Whether each of these changes have been agreed on by 100 percent of the country is another matter, but they eventually grew through the majority and evolved a nation. Progress spurred on by protests has led to marriage equality, civil rights, the end of wars and the right to vote for many of us that were not originally included in the Constitution. Protesters do not destroy a nation; they merely encourage a conversation. And believe it or not, if you are speaking out against these current protests, you too are a protester. You are the other side of the conversation.
I know just how easy it is to become so passionate on how we feel about a topic we dig in and defend our position like a rabid dog guarding a bone. Sometimes we just need to stop talking, take a moment to just listen. In this moment, try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, try to understand someone else’s experience. If we really listen, we might learn something about others. This is not about changing minds on beliefs or political views. This is about understanding.
Democracy is literally people of differing views simply learning to understand each other and find some common ground. It is way past time we, as a nation, start to understand what it is like to live in this nation as an African-American, to be made to feel like a second-class citizen.
Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist organization or a “We’re better than you” movement. Of course they know all lives matter. That is the point. It is a community of people that spoke up to let the rest of America know they matter, too, as much, equally. Saying it does not betray anyone or mean you think anyone matters less; it is just an acknowledgment that you agree they matter, their lives matter.
Go on, say it, it will not hurt I promise. Black Lives Matter. After generations of slavery, segregation, and slaughter, they have had enough. Millions of people across the nation are protesting to say enough is enough, it is time for real change. Our own Founding Fathers were the original protesters, building our country on the tradition of speaking out. Protesting not only does not destroy our nation, it honors its true spirit.
Dai Parsons is a local resident who writes columns for the Record-Herald.