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. I 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.
Related posts online:
Why The Small Protests In Small Towns Across America Matter
and from the Birmingham Press
“Johnson: Okay, white people, here’s what you can do now”