At this point, this post has been a long time coming. Weeks and weeks ago I originally intended to write about the power of protest and the whether or not “conversations” are effective. Then the University of Missouri came up; it became pertinent to talk about the timeline of events, the history of the university in terms of racial injustices. But so much has happened in the past couple of weeks (and over the years) that it’s hard to know what the best thing to say about everything is. And as it directly pertains to Mizzou, there are a significant amount of spaces where one can read about and discuss the events that transpired.
Ultimately the events do not exist in singularity, they acted as an important inciting incident that sparked a national discussion in which the impact of racism is exposed and the necessity and power of black solidarity is demonstrated.
The nature of protest is radical opposition. The intensity of the radicalization is relative, to the system. And when the system is an overarching burden of oppression, interwoven into the fabric of society, any dissenters exist as catalysts for intense change. It only takes a spark to light a fire.
The events that transpired at the University of Missouri, from the compounded incidents that led to student protest all the way to the realization of the demands of the students, has had a significant impact upon the country in terms of discussions about race and racial tension.
As I’ve grown more aware of the nature of society’s climate, I’ve realized that we are in a time of people demanding change, of minorities demanding change. In a time where black people are making the radical, unapologetic declaration that their lives matter. From social media initiatives to full fledged physical protests, the black community has renewed fervor for the fight for equality. I’ve watched as people have fought to be the voice of change and justice for the members of the community who have been silenced, I’ve watched as people took to the streets to express the pain of the oppression, of the cold blood, of the erasure. I have watched my brothers and sisters raise their voices in harmony to stand against the system and fight for a better future. And I felt the heartache and the anger that coursed through the community every time a tragedy or injustice fell onto our backs. I wanted to help. I wanted to be on those streets, standing with my brothers and sisters in solidarity. I wanted the strength of my voice to be along side those who were fighting for our cause, for equality, for the right to exist. Speaking on issues in class, calling out problematic behavior, signing petitions, distributing information, and standing in solidarity behind those out on the front lines has always been part of my life, but last week I was injected into the reality of the heavy lifting of activism; I finally had the opportunity to truly begin my journey into a lifetime of activism.
Activism is equal parts beautiful as it is exhausting. It is small groups of people with strong conviction wanting to do something bigger. It is hours long meetings lasting long through the night and into morning. It is intellectual collaboration and mutual growth and education. It is endless explaining and suggesting and planning. It is standing still and stoic for long periods of time and finding it in yourself to offer strong sympathetic smiles at the end of it all. It is protection of your people, because, even now, jobs are at risk, lives are at risk. It is the self care of letting your experience go all the way through you instead of trying to remain removed from your experience, it is the relief of sleep and after a long day of non-stop active conversation. It is the heat under you skin when you have to explain the validity of your cause, of your existence. It is the encouragement of smiles and hugs from strangers. It is the pierce through your skin when you are met with unwarranted hostility. It is the indescribable comfort of being able to look at your partners and know that you are not alone in your experience or in the fight.
Exactly a week ago, Wednesday, November 11, The University of Kansas held a town hall meeting about “Race, Respect, and Responsibility.” The event itself was very obviously politically charged. But despite that, the voices of students and professors alike rang through the auditorium and echoed through overflow rooms and over live streams to phones and laptops throughout across campus and throughout Lawrence. So many heavy, poignant, striking, and shocking narratives were told. So many suggestions were made by students and professors, calling upon the university to make changes to campus. (This conversation exists, in part, on the #kuconvo twitter tag). To create a safe, livable, inclusive, non-discriminatory environment for minorities.
Near the scheduled end of the meeting, Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk, the grassroots activist group that I am part of, took the stage. Kynnedi Grant, the Black Student Union president and one of the figureheads of the group, stood to tell her story. To talk about the violent hate crime that was committed against her merely a week prior. After that, our mission statement and 15 demands of the university were read. The audience was called to rally behind us. And as people in that auditorium applauded, stood, and raised their fists alongside us I was overwhelmed with the feeling that that was exactly where I was supposed to be. To have a mission statement that I wrote read to such an audience; to have powerful demands that members of our group have been fighting for for years presented to the such a body of influence; to stand with my people with our fists raised; to stand in and continue the forum, the conversation, and the fight.
Leaving an hour and a half after the scheduled end of the meeting with the exhaustion of repeatedly hearing narratives that I so deeply understood and related to that they felt like an extension of myself, and weight of our actions coiled up in my body, I felt satisfied.
Afterwards, we [Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk] recovered with Powerade and brownies and continued onto the Senate Chambers to fight for our voice, our demands to be recognized by the representatives of our student body. After nearly (or over) two hours of deliberation, argument, justifying, and explanation, a bill was passed in one committee of Student Senate (Student Rights) that expressed support for our group as well as for some of our demands that Student Senate itself could directly impact or fulfill.
The next day, at high noon, we gathered on Wescoe Beach (the quad) to host a demonstration. I stood there for nearly two hours alongside my group, with a sign that said “Black Lives Matter.” Additionally, we had signs expressing solidarity with Mizzou, signs calling out the university, and signs outlining our purpose and demands. We were photographed and gawked at like specimens, and met with so many people shaking their heads or expressing other signs of disapproval, combative conversations and questions, sneers and invalidating actions. But we were also met with waves and smiles, offers of help and solidarity. We were told that we were giving a voice to so many on campus. And even though this work is worth it either way; to see, hear, and know that despite the disapproval and opposition, your work is validating and positively impacting those around you gives it that much more weight.
Since then, I have had many conversations with so many different people in a variety of environments about the events that transpired, about the purpose of our actions, of Mizzou and of BlackLivesMatter. I have been faced with conversations about racial relations, racial tension, and racism. I have been confronted with racism and invalidation. This is nothing new. I have always existed as a member and voice for our community and of our experiences. But I have a new kind of conviction. A new, more obvious torch to carry. I’m here to move forward with real results. I’m here for change in my lifetime, and if you’re not with us than you’ll be left behind, because we are not stopping anytime soon; remedying institutional racism takes a lot of time and a lot of work.
Follow us, stand with us, and listen to us. We are here. We are ready. We are powerful. Remember us. Watch for us. There is more to come.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu