Although I have participated in them, I have never really been a big proponent of public protests. While it sometimes made me feel better for participating in something that I thought needed to be addressed in the world around me, I’ve never really felt that the protests I’ve attended were all that effective. The Black Lives Matter protests have changed my mind about that.
Growing up, what I remember seeing of protests was largely the footage of anti-war protests that happened a few years before I was born. I remember understanding as a child that the protests were staged by the hippies to stop the war in Vietnam. But by my thinking, since the war happened anyway, completely undeterred by signs, chants, and gatherings of people, and since the word hippies had seemed to take on some sort of negative connotation, protesting seemed pretty pointless to me.
But as an adult, the first protest I recall attending was in San Francisco. It was the summer after 9/11, and George Bush II was preparing for war. Although I and many others would go on to protest on many more occasions across the country and around the world, our cries fell on deaf ears as those who sought to benefit from war waged their war.
I’ve since attended marches and protests for science, women’s rights, environmental care, food without poison, and a general sense of solidarity with anyone who feels as if things are a bit awry. I’ve even staged a couple of my own “Panhandling for Peace” events where, just for the fun of it, I and others waved signs with positive, uplifting, and encouraging messages. Yet although they each made me feel a bit better about myself for being part of a system that has normalized violence, inequality, selfishness, and toxicity, I never really felt as though they made much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
However, while protests started over the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, they intensified when the offending officer was only charged with third-degree murder and second degree manslaughter, and the three officers who enabled him weren’t charged with anything. After protests erupted around the country, and even around the world, it would appear that the protests have actually had an effect. The offending officer is now also being charged with second-degree murder, the other three officers have been arrested for aiding and abetting a murderer, and everyone is getting a closer look at the systemic racism that has emerged from the foundation of slavery that built this country.
Even though I took part in a Black Lives Matter protest earlier this week, and held space for those who most needed to protest by standing in the gap between them and the police, at the end of the day, I can’t say that I really felt our endeavor was actually going to change anything. Although we shut down a few intersections and forced police to divert traffic as we took a knee on the hot asphalt for nine minutes, the same amount of time George Floyd’s killer kneeled on his neck, knowing Floridian drivers, and drivers in general, I figured that we may not have done much more than pissed a lot of people off over being inconvenienced on a Sunday afternoon. But even if these protests don’t immediately end systematic racism or provide whatever other magical solution some may imagine they should, I feel my heart change a bit every time I do it. And it may very well be that that change of heart is the change we all really need to see anyway.