Black Lives and the Journeys to Racial Justice (Part III: Protests After the Murder of George Floyd)
Updated: Oct 17, 2020
On May 25, 2020, a teenaged girl filmed a crime on her cellphone. The murder of George Floyd. The video recorded by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier was seen by millions, all over the world. The shock, heartbreak, horror and anguish that followed coalesced into one of the most powerful, lasting movements that this country has seen. Even in other countries, there were marches and an outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Protests continue to this day.
I know am not the only one who has felt a deep despair, sometimes paralyzing. The constant replay of the murder of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery became overwhelming. Dangerously, it seemed to normalize the killings, as stated Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs, who gave a webinar on July 1st entitled "The Black Lives Matter Movement and the Power of Protest." Instead of images or videos of the killings, Dr. Hobbs used art in her talk, starting with this powerful piece called In(di)visible by artist Constance Brantley.
There are times when I have wanted to just close my eyes. Every morning, I would wake up, remember the face of George Floyd and think of his family. The pain they must feel every moment of every day. At times, it was more than I could bear. I began to think instead of my departed mother and her smile, and imagined a better world. "Action is the antidote to despair" said Joan Baez.
An outpouring of emotion is what ignites protests in the street. But this is a long fight, and we must be prepared. For sustained action, we must maintain our physical health, and be mentally fortified. Walks in nature always help, and I have also recently started trying out an phone App called Calm. It offers short sessions of guided meditation, has scenes of nature, and calming music.
We have seen demonstrations before, after the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and too many others. Yet, those did not result in lasting, meaningful change. And I wondered, will it be different this time? Many seem to think it will be, notably the late, great Congressman John Lewis, whose life's work has been towards achieving racial justice.
Indeed, some things have transpired overnight that seemed impossible for years. Statues and symbols of the confederacy have fallen. While, many corporations, big and small, have paid lip service to the #BlackLivesMatter, seemingly "virtue signaling" without real change to back up their statements, there is a sense of immediacy and urgency that brings to mind the power of the #MeToo movement.
On learning of local protests in my community, I confronted the dilemma facing many of us. We are in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Would it be safe, even with masks, to head out and add our voices to demand change? Just a few days ago, I found this useful perspective in The Ethicist column by Kwame Anthony Appiah in the New York Times Magazine, on this very dilemma. "The right question is not: What contribution am I making? The right question is: Am I taking part in a process that's making a positive contribution overall?"
My daughter and I decided to go to a protest in Palo Alto on Saturday June 6, 2020.
We made cardboard signs to take along to the gathering in front of Palo Alto's City Hall. She rapidly drew the fist that is emblematic of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and wrote "Listen, Learn, Love" on the other side of her sign. I was deeply moved by a sign I had seen on Twitter, made by Rachel Costa in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I wrote that powerful message on my sign. "All Mothers Were Summoned When George Floyd Called Out For His Mama."
Everyone wore masks. We wore N-95 masks, and I wore a cloth mask over mine so I could reuse the N-95. Our Congresswoman Anna Eshoo gave the opening speech. It was her first time out since the shelter-in-place order was issued in mid-March. Many youth spoke with emotion, demanding change, as did the mayors of Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, both Black women, and the mayor of Palo Alto. It was a powerful, inspiring event. We then marched to University Ave, under the train tracks and down El Camino Real.
Here are some of the photos I took.
This is what democracy looks like. Let us keep fighting for racial justice.