Around the country, right now, millions of people are protesting. The conditions of their lives dictate that they put themselves, their friends, and their families in danger. Danger from Covid-19, from police or governmental retaliation, from retaliation by local racists, from being injured or killed in a demonstration.

Here on the Quimper Peninsula, we live in a bubble of our making. This is a good thing. It is a place where we have acted out the best (and sometimes worse) of our beliefs, running for election, getting out the vote for politicians that take principled stances for justice and participating in various civic action organizations, creating small family farms, suing the government for better education for our children (and winning), pushing back on agencies that were not protecting our environment by getting involved in the processes that they created and steering them towards where we want them to go. Many of us send money to causes.

In Jefferson County I can call politicians and easily meet with them.  I know all the local state representatives and many of our city officials by name. But what should I ask of them? They already vote the way I want them to. They have fought for many of the issues that I have raised.

We are out here on the upper left-hand corner of the map of our lower 48 states, and it can seem like protesting is just some sort of egotistical statement you make in a crowd of your friends. What can I do to make a difference?” The answer seems to be “not much”.

I put the question to a few friends, one, a local African American activist, Alise Moss Vetica, wrote back to say “… at the moment I’m too angry to think about this.”

Later, she sent me this:

“Protests are reactionary and infrequent – injustice and racism are systemic, national and daily.  Do you belong to the NAACP (it’s not just for Black people)?  Do you belong to the ACLU?  Or to any of the other numerous groups that are actually working every day to make a difference on changing racist policies and bringing justice on a daily basis.  So the answer to the question is to get involved “proactively”, either with money or with time, in an ongoing change process.”   For anyone considering what should I do, my response has always been – “People say they care, but do they care enough?  Do they care enough to get involved in the process to bring change?  Do they care enough to make a difference?  Taking action to make a difference is the true measure of our moral compass.” 

I also asked Carla Main, a friend active in social causes and a practicing Quaker. This was her reply:

I, like so many white people, struggle with what I can do to change hundreds of years of racism and inequity.  It is easy to step back and expect someone else to take on the job. 

As an old white woman, I am understanding more all the time my Personal Responsibility to demand change.  Change will happen when we all demand change – in our society and in our own lives – even those of us who are living in a community that is less diverse than many.  I must change. I must be informed. I must be active. must get out of my bubble! This is my fight too – I can’t know what it is like to be a person of color but I can be an ally.

It is powerful and reinforcing when we embody our political beliefs with our own body, in our own community where we are recognized and known.

It also personalizes an issue that can seem impersonal – or about someone else. Those who may be critical of demonstrators in the big city may be more influenced when they see their friend, or doctor, or grocery clerk making this statement.

People in rural areas and small towns need to see that this is an issue that is strongly supported by white, rural, people of all ages – not just people of color in urban communities.”

Both these positions have merit. There are still people in our community who don’t understand why these protests are needed. Many may not remember that there was a police case a few years ago where a man was beaten by members of the sheriff’s office. There have been suicides in our jail. These resulted in lawsuits and changes to procedures. These were not people of color, but yet represent issues of police conduct.

These changes won’t happen overnight due to any protests. But doing nothing is not an option. Martin Luther King said to the clergy in Birmingham who didn’t want to upset the police, “I can’t join you in your praise for the police department.”  and followed it with this,” …when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters…then you will understand why we find it so difficult to wait.” –Letter from A Birmingham Jail.

Whatever path you choose, it’s time to choose something and act.

Protesters in Port Townsend

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Related posts online:

Why The Small Protests In Small Towns Across America Matter

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/black-lives-matter-protests-near-me-small-towns

and from the Birmingham Press

“Johnson: Okay, white people, here’s what you can do now”

https://www.al.com/opinion/2020/05/johnson-okay-white-people-heres-what-you-can-do-now.html

7 COMMENTS

  1. As white people (which most people in Jeff. Co are), the first step is to own our racism, our white privilege, especially liberals who too often say “I’m not a racist”, the next step is to educate ourselves, then take responsibility to educate family, friends, co-workers, to respond to the ways “good” white people unknowingly are racist. We need to read, watch, listen to Black people, hear what they have to say, what they need/want. These steps plus the steps of support and action mentioned by your friends will enable us to begin to be anti-racist. This is OUR work. I suggest the book “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo.

  2. Wonderfully stated, Al. We “bubble people” don’t have to go far to realize this is a very small bubble, and the problems around us have a serious effect on us, and everyone. Our small statements of protest join the wave that is sweeping the country and world.
    Larry Stein , Port Townsend & Seattle

  3. Thank you, Al, for writing this essay. It seems that the question of “What can I do?” comes up for white people each time the black community suffers yet another murder of an unarmed man or woman by law enforcement or a hate crime like Ahmaud Arbery’s lynching. I love that one of our local teens, Rosemary Crecca, organized this protest. We can all learn from the curiosity, the determination, and the inclusivity of smart, young activists.

    We can also learn from the mountains of words- articles, essays, books, that have been written in the past decade+, since our supposed post-racial era began (which we now understand is a term woefully misconceived). The impetus is on white people to self-educate, to research, to DO THE WORK of exploring their privilege and how they benefit from a system designed to bring BIPOC down, and ultimately, to change that system. We don’t need to ask black people for help in this regard. Black people are exhausted from doing this work for us. A simple Google search will open the door to a library of resources:

    Here’s a list that to keep busy with for months and perhaps years come, from a Medium essay published 2017: “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice” https://medium.com/equality-includes-you/what-white-people-can-do-for-racial-justice-f2d18b0e0234

    Showing Up For Racial Justice has a great primer to understand different types of racism and how they intersect. https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/racism-101.html

    It’s the 10th anniversary of the publication of Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness” Please please read this book.

    Read Bryan Stevenson’s book “Just Mercy” and learn about the work of the Equal Justice Initiative.

    Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2014 article in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

    Research the intersection of climate change and racial injustice. Research the intersection of economic inequality and racial injustice. Research the intersection of Covid-19 and racial injustice. We’re living all of this, in real time. Perhaps not so much in our peninsular bubble, but are we asking why this is so?

    Here’s a list of more recent titles that explore these issues: “An anti-racist reading list of 20 highly rated books by black authors https://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/1873-an-anti-racist-reading-list-20-highly-rated-nonfiction-books-by-black-a

    GIVE GIVE GIVE to the multitude of organizations already doing the work on your behalf.

    I would argue that our bubble does not serve all as well as it may serve you. Questions comfortable Port Townsend residents may want to ask their elected officials might include, why is this community, this county, this city continue to be overwhelmingly majority white? Why is there an affordable housing crisis? Why has gentrification, and a booming business in vacation home buying and vacation rentals been allowed to push middle and lower class families out of their neighborhoods and/or deter others from considering a move to Port Townsend because they would have nowhere to live? Why, outside of the city limits of Port Townsend, is there poverty that would rival the depths of a shantytown (and certainly within Port Townsend, as encampments of those without fixed housing grow)? Why is our local economy so heavily dependent on the leisure and hospitality sector that just a month into “stay home, stay healthy” orders, Jefferson County registered a 17 percent unemployment rate? Why, just a few years ago, did the family who fought to have Redskins removed as a the mascot of the Port Townsend public schools receive death threats? Yes, this is a bubble that has been made by affluent, educated, white people, and our leadership certainly does reflects us.

    It’s easy, in this majority white and affluent, liberal community, to be on the side of social justice, to plant the sign in the yard, to join a protest, to tweet or insta or post a meme. But unless these gestures are accompanied by the difficult, lonely work of acknowledging our white privilege and unlearning white supremacy + listening, donating, calling, calling out, watching, reading, writing, seeking out, opening up, falling still, voting on the ballot and with our dollars, then all the social media engagement and sign waving amount to nothing more than virtue signaling. Seek out the ways of learning new belief and behavior systems that are meaningful to you, that will result in real change. First in your heart, then in your community, and then in the world.

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