Protesting, A Tale of two cities; A Tale of two perspectives.
By Anthony corona
ACB Voices is a platform to highlight all the many and varied voices in our organization. Stories and observations from our membership is the flagship mission for this blog. A national conversation around protesting has come to be a conversation within the ACB community and I wanted to take a deeper look at protesting from various perspectives within ACB. As with many good stories often the story will gain a life of its own and begin to write its own narrative. This happened as I opened up conversations with a few members to explore their thoughts and experiences about protesting. What emerged was conversations with two different people from two very different places that offered much different perspectives while coming to the same conclusions. For the purpose of this story names and localities will remain un-said , political affiliation will not be written and the feelings and thoughts of the two individuals I spoke with will be presented with respect. The two conversations I am privileged to write about really shine a light on how vastly different experiences and viewpoints can merge together in a chorus of unity.
My virtual journey begins in a suburb not far out of Chicago and a conversation with a intelligent and emotionally open Asian American woman in her 20s. She tells me of growing up as an Asian American girl in a predominantly white suburb where there were few persons of color and even fewer people who looked like her. Early years in school it wasn’t something she thought about much, it wasn’t much of an issue or difference but as is the human story her experiences began to shift as she and her friends grew more into persons. By the time she reached high school stereotypes and thought processes that highlighted the fact that she didn’t look like most of the people around her were a daily occurrence. She tells of conversations explaining to others that just because a few students were Asian they didn’t all know each other and they were not all of the same mind and experience. She tells me that overall she had a pretty good schooling experience. She formed friendships and bonds and a love of her hometown before going to college where she suddenly was exposed to many various cultures, ways of thinking and the larger conversations of community and humanity many of us experience at that age. Her open mind learned and assimilated what she learned and experienced driving her intellect as well as feeding her innate compassion.
So I directed the conversation to the current climate while learning of activism and advocacy she had been involved with in the past. No stranger to protests we talked about her desire to be a party to conversations and movements that bring the rights of us all in a forward and respectful manner. We spoke of course about the recent events that led to the surge of protesting and she passionately emphasized her need to stand with her brothers and sisters in protest of the atrocities witnessed almost daily in a country she deeply loves. My friend is low vision, a guide dog user who is healthy and used to unrestricted movement and travel. Her protesting experiences up to this point have been peaceful and well managed but watching events unfold around the country she was well aware of the possibilities and safety concerns. Those concerns although real didn’t sway her from the desire or as she described her need to add her voice in solidarity. So she did some homework.
Social media and the internet led her to a surprising cfind; her (self described) quiet, pretty little town had a movement and protests scheduled. This was good news in many ways; Familiar neighborhood with well known routes, places she had been many times were going to be the beginning and ending points of a proposed march. She asked a friend to accompany her so she could eliminate the possible danger or confusion for her beloved guide. A few more preparations and plans and she was ready to MARCH!
That first protest was as advertised, both peaceful and well organized. She felt empowered while seeing the people she thought of as quiet and not the protesting kind come together to raise their voices in support of lives that matter. The next evening a second protest was held (that she didn’t attend) organized in the same manner that although it didn’t turn violent it did get rather loud and somewhat nasty. That weekend she marched again even with a heightened fear that her personal safety may not be as safe as the first protest. Thankfully the protesting she has engaged in so far has been mostly peaceful and non-violent She is invigorated to keep the larger conversation open and upfront She will continue to safely stand, march and protest
My journey then virtually crossed west to the pacific coast of our country to a city vastly different in experience. And a conversation with a man who identifies as a Black American or just Black. As he asked me to reference. In his late 50s he is well versed by conversation, family and community stories with the Civil Rights movement of the 60s and early 70s. We spoke in depth about experiences throughout his life so far that as he stated; “Social Justice is like a pendulum that is in constant swing.”That analogy drove the points of stories he was sharing home for me. There has never been a time where these feelings and conversations were not a part of his daily life, if sometimes they did in fact recede to the perhiprial. From being followed in neighborhoods to being called “BOY” at the age of 46 to being asked at a fundraising function. Where he was a guest to clean a spilled beverage because the person used bias about his color to assume he was waitstaff. We spoke about the “TALK” most parents of Black young men have to have and of course moved into conversation about the current state of the country.
My Pacific coast friend expressed a deep sadness over issues his parents and extended community fought for all those years ago still being so far from the lessons learned and applied that those brave people worked so hard to achieve. The comfortable feeling of a country where everyone is created, treated and held to equal standards is a country that has never really existed for him. In college he admits to being somewhat militant in conversation, action and protest. By his late 20s he was dealing with RP and work issues that transformed his actions to leading by example rather than the more militant style that he was raised to be. Working hard while raising a family and dealing with vision loss made the daily reminders of race and social justice issues take a backseat position for him. He admits that many of these atrocious incidents over the past few years came to light it stirred and boiled his blood reminding him of what those before fought for and against. Then as he boldly states; “Almost nine minutes of HORROR shot around the world and straight into my heart.”
Meetings and conversations would not serve to satiate the need inside for his voice to count, it was time to protest. Now a middle aged father and grandfather, a white cane user and a prominent member of not only his community but a prominent member of quite a few organizations he needed to figure out what protesting would look like for him now. A neighbors son who is 25 years his junior would be the link that bridged his activism past and the outrage he was feeling now.
Like my suburban friend in IL. He and his newly cemented advocacy partner did their homework and looked for planned protests with a high hope for peaceful demonstration and little safety risk. Three nights into protesting the care taken in joining demonstrations with peaceful intentions changed rapidly. In his wwords, people with counter agendas infiltrated the peaceful group and began to insight rioting. Having someone with him who had no vision issues he didn’t initially worry overmuch and that night of protesting ended up waning out without any violence. I asked if that in combination gave him second thoughts before heading out for another night of protesting and he emphatically told me it inspired him to raise his voice in louder song calling for peaceful intelligent protest. There is no going back and it was more important to be among the voices demanding change and justice than to stay back out of fear.
He has been sporadically protesting both physically and using social media since that horrific 9 minute video shocked the world into action. He feels that even though some of the protests have turned into something not originally intended it is so important to exercise our right to protest and demand better…. Demand Justice!!
My suburban friend told me she can step off a curb and be hit by a car at any time and the risks with protesting are along the same lines for her. Homework, being diligent as well as staying alert and ready to bolt at the sign of trouble keeps her in the spirit ready, willing and able to protest.
My friend on the Coast has a more world traveled perspective. He knows the risks associated with protesting in such a HOT city. He knows what is at stake and it is two fold. He can protest as responsibly as possible and make his voice count or he can stand on the sidelines. That second choice is not an option for him. Change only happens when people care enough to step out of their comfort zones and cry out in unison for the change/justice.
Is it worth it to protest? Is it a manner of exercising freedom of speech that is effective?
GThose questions are ones that can only be answered on a personal level. They are off chutes of larger questions we are all faced with. After these two amazing conversations I know I am inspired to use the voice I have ben given and the talent I possess to keep the conversation going. It is my hope we will all share our experiences and feelings in solidarity and whatever your personal form of protest is; use it!