Thousands gathered in Oakland yesterday, joining with marchers in San Francisco, New York and Washington, DC. I marched with them, as part of the API solidarity contingent. And I found myself reflecting on what my solidarity looks like with this movement.
What I did say:
- Black Lives Matter. Sometimes I want to clarify, “Black lives should matter more than they do,” because a lot of people are irritated by the slogan and seem to miss the point. But without hesitation I said it.
- Tell the truth, stop the lies, Mike Brown didn’t have to die. I’ve been surprised and disappointed by how much explaining away of Mike Brown’s death (and even Eric Garner’s death) has happened among people who understand themselves to be against racism. Additionally, good and decent citizens I know have explained away the undercover CHP officer pulling a weapon on an agitated protest crowd this past Thursday. Yes, when under attack in this country people do have the right to defend themselves. But perhaps this situation wouldn’t have arisen if they hadn’t infiltrated the crowd disguised as anarchists looking to break some windows at a moment that tensions between police and civilians are particularly high, particularly in relation to fears of a resurgence in COINTELPRO.
- I…I believe…I believe that…I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN! This was the chant that closed out the rally. It felt both desperate and hopeful, because the goal of this campaign is so big, and yet it is what many of us have been working towards for years without believing we will actually win on a large scale – the rooting out of systemic racism from our structures of government, including those systems that protect and defend.
- APIs in solidarity with Black Lives. One of my favorite things about the community I have found here in Oakland is that other communities of color recognize that our own struggles for dignity and value matter, and that those struggles are deeply connected to the culture of anti-Blackness in America. In recent weeks, I’ve been in conversations with API activists who recognize that our immigration rights are connected to the civil rights struggle, and that we are often used as a lever or fulcrum in the racial hierarchization that keeps White privilege in place and keeps Black people on the bottom. (I am also grateful for the Model Minority Mutiny, which additionally brings attention to the ways the model minority myth functions to benefit Asian Americans like me at the expense of many of my API brothers and sisters who are refugees, poor, darker skinned, Muslim, and so on, buying the silence of those who benefit from the model minority myth.) And I am grateful that simultaneously some of us are taking seriously what it means to be in solidarity with the Latino community around both immigration and indigenous rights and dignity in this country. It all needs to happen.
What I didn’t say:
- All Lives Matter. I don’t think I need to explain that one at this point.
- I can’t breathe. Because I can. I did, however, join in the “I can’t breathe” song that we sang as we marched. I also offered the prayer at the Project Darries annual Christmas dinner, honoring the life of our beloved brother who died too young in crossfire in our neighborhood eight years ago. The evening featured great community leaders teaching breathing practices so our community (particularly the Black community) can begin to be healthier. Before my prayer, I said to those gathered, “It is good that we are practicing breathing tonight, because one of the chants on the street today was ‘I can’t breathe,’ Eric Garner’s last words. My brothers and sisters, there are PLENTY of folks trying to make sure that you cannot breathe. Let’s not make it easy for them. Let’s take care of ourselves, and let’s provide light and love to them so they learn to value their lives and ours.”
- Anything to that white guy with the snare drum. I was marching with the API (Asian Pacific Islander) solidarity contingent when he joined in with us. When he asked if we were the whole march and we explained who we were, he said, “why can’t we all come together? Why do you have to segregate this s***?” No one else responded to him either. And the funny thing is, as we marched, Black and White and Latino folks joined us without qualms.
- Oakland PD is filthy. One of the chants was “Oakland PD is filthy, filthy! The whole damn system is guilty, guilty!” Part of this is about my faith and part of it is about my privilege. My privilege is that I don’t get harassed by officers on a regular basis. Most of my Black friends and colleagues have. So I can question the system and still believe in the potential and possibility of each officer. And I have actually had good experiences with a number of Oakland police officers. It’s also about my faith – I feel called to acknowledge the divinity within others that allows them to become part of the solution. A really important distinction to be made, though: while Dr. King did this ALL THE TIME (and he talks about it in the Drum Major Instinct sermon), it is totally different for me to do it, because I engage with the humanity of officers with the privilege I mention at the beginning of this point. Let’s not, people with privilege, keep acting like we have the right to appropriate Dr. King as cavalierly as we do.
- Anything from the mic. That’s what solidarity looks like. Show up where you’re invited. Make sure the voices at the front are the voices of the community directly impacted.
What I held in tension:
- The heckling from a group of young Black men and women who are part of BAMN (By Any Means Necessary). What was coming from the stage was so profound. It was the voices of people who have lost family to police brutality and who have been engaged for years in this work. The young folks near me were treating parts of it like Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it’s because they are completely unconvinced that this system which has been designed for 400 years to exploit and destroy Black lives can ever be changed unless destroyed. In fact, one of their pronouncements from the bullhorn (during a song from the stage) was, “Black people built all this s***; we’re the ones gonna tear it down.” I know they don’t believe in traditional organizing as a way of ending things. I felt like the mothers in this struggle weren’t being honored, but I know some of them have also lost people to the same struggle.
- Diversity of tactics. I wonder how other cities deal with this. Again, this is a tension between my privilege and my faith. I do not live with the desperation that would drive me to acts of property destruction. And while I’m more and more interested in non-capitalist (and frankly not necessarily socialist) solutions to the broken systems that shape our communities, I still do not see breaking windows and stealing things as helpful to the movement. My faith gives me the firm belief that violent acts actually harm us as well as the person we’re striking back at, that it poisons us over time. So I think it’s bad for our bodies and souls to engage in acts of malice (not just violence, and I understand the difference between harm to body and harm to property; I think it’s wrong to conflate the two and I also think both are a bad idea). But if I’m not listening to the people whose rage provokes these strategies, I’m making a mistake, and I’m guaranteeing that rage will remain firmly in place. And so are all the people dismissing this movement solely because of the people in masks breaking stuff. (On the flip side, the more law-and-order folks LOVE protests that get destructive because those are easier both to infiltrate and to shut down, and they’re easier to quell as movements because they are so alienating to most people. So there’s strategic stuff, too.)
- Editorial addition 12/14, 1:55PM: At the same time, I am feeling pretty done with trying to appeal to the reason or compassion of anyone who is more upset about the broken windows than the system that means a Black person dies at the hands of police or vigilantes every 28 hours, and I am feeling pretty done with people who believe that acts of civil disobedience like stopping BART trains on Black Friday or reading the names of victims of police brutality at popular brunch spots are the same as breaking windows of businesses and that both of those types of actions are lumped in with actual violence done to people, and that violence done by people suffering under oppression is somehow worse than violence done by people with authority. I am grateful to others willing to have those conversations, because I have put in my more-than-a-decade on that particular front.
What I loved:
- The snake formation. I’ve been showing up for these kinds of protests for a long, long time, but only recently have I started reaching out to make sure I’m showing up intentionally with other Asians and South Asians. Marching with the API solidarity contingent yesterday, I got the chance to participate in a very old marching pattern that API protesters use, where we link arms four across, in rows and rows, and we march, weaving backwards and forwards, to give the impression of a snake. We marched into Frank Ogawa Plaza with our signs, chanting “Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail; the whole damn system is guilty as hell!” with amazing API percussion accompanying us. The whole point was that this moment isn’t about us, and yet the number of Black protesters who yelled and cheered and wept and gave us the solidarity fist in the air – it was pretty amazing to remember what solidarity means to the people at the front of the struggle.
- I…I believe…I believe that…I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN.