By Susan Blythe-Goodman
Editor's Note: this blog was written on April 30, 2017 - the night before May Day.
May Day, the March for Science, Black Lives Matter, People’s Climate Summit, the Women’s March, Tax Day. The past month has provided a lot of opportunities to take to the streets. Our political climate gives us a lot of reason to take to the streets.
My newsfeed has been full of critiques and defenses of the different protests and tactics that are occurring. I’ve read posts by folks expressing pre-emptive anger at the anarchists for whatever they end up doing on May Day. Others are reminding us of the difference between vandalism (destruction of property) and violence (harm to people). Some are upset that the March for Science organizers wouldn’t address needs from grassroots women of color climate justice groups. Others are upset that Block the Bunker activists seized the mic to share how those needs had been ignored. Posts point out the difference between the BLM marches, how one was organized by a single individual with an anti-immigration speaker, but many others are organized by accountable leaders who focus the events on fighting displacement, gentrification, and racial inequity in the criminal justice system. And for the Women’s March, Ijeoma Oluo summarized the criticism best.
As much work as doing the research takes, learning about every group, action, rally, march, and cause feels helpful. In all these online debriefs, I saw a comment someone made pointing out that polarizing topics within movements can actually help us dig further into our organizing work and become more passionate about our cause.
This took me back to the night at the airport after the Muslim ban on January 28. Seeing so many comments and likes from church members gave me a lot of strength during a long, tiring night. At one moment where we were sitting in a hallway, pressed right up against a line of bikes that the cops were clutching. They silently stood over us, the tension was palpable, but the protesters exuded calmness and determination. At one point I noticed a completely open hallway next to where we were sitting, and I asked someone what exactly we were blocking. It turned out more people were on their way to join us at this checkpoint, but since we didn’t know this, one guy joked, “You know this is the moment that will make the front page tomorrow: protesters take up half a hallway and block nothing.” It felt good to laugh.
The next morning I got a text from a friend that said, “I wouldn’t have known the protest was going on if it wasn’t for your Facebook. I went to all the news channels on TV and no one was covering it live. I was able to watch live on Facebook because of your post.” She told me she didn’t agree with all the actions we used, but she thanked me for keeping people informed.
She wasn’t the only one to critique what she saw that night. When we were at the airport, the main tactic we used was blocking checkpoints, entrances, and exits. We wanted it to be as inconvenient as possible for people to come in or go out. For the whole airport to come to a grinding halt, until we couldn’t be ignored and the people being immorally detained were let go. Many folks have reacted strongly to this tactic. Several friends of mine were concerned for the people coming off the airplanes. What if they had an emergency to get to? What if they were an immigrant or refugee who had finally made it through customs? It’s been suggested to me many times that using our bodies to get in the way of the airport flow was taking it too far.
At the airport, one protester would say, “Come and join us! And if you can’t join us tonight, what are you doing about this cause? Can you join us at Westlake tomorrow?” Another one wrote on the back of his protest sign, “Angry? Call your rep or senator and tell them to fight the ban!”
I used these responses in my conversations with friends expressing hesitation about our tactics at the airport. I asked what they were doing to stop members of marginalized populations from being deported based on their religion? Because before I can handle criticisms of peaceful protesters fighting for justice, I need to hear a strong statement about the unfair Muslim ban. And a statement about the creator of the ban who has caused refugees and immigrants to live in terror.
This response has led to some enlightening conversations. One friend expressed concerned with the short-sighted reactions to the ban, asking where the massive protests were a year or two ago when the last administration restricted travel from these same countries, which might have laid the groundwork for the travel ban. Her reaction helped me remember how easily I can be angry with a leader I didn’t vote for, but we all need to hold all of our representatives accountable regardless of what party they identify with.
I hope everyone who has feedback like this feels inspired to show up even more for protests to share these points. We need to hear one another’s concerns to create a movement that fully expresses the values we are advocating for.
Back at the airport, our group had moved to new locations throughout the night, and at the end we were blocking a side hallway. We realized none of us were the central organizers of the event, and one person asked if we wanted to have a quick philosophical chat on how we all felt about keeping people in. We all hesitated to support blocking people from leaving, but we didn’t want to dilute the action we were a part of. A friend of mine pointed to an unblocked exit within sight and said folks could still easily get out that night, so we kept blocking our hallway as best we could.
We were definitely the pushover group! A couple with a baby showed up and said they were with our cause but wanted to get their child home, we quickly broke apart to let them through. Someone even helped them carry the stroller up an escalator. That started a norm of disassembling for families with children. We also collectively decided to break apart for all the employees. They’d been helpful to the protesters all night, and we wanted them to be able to leave work.
The rest of the folks who came to our hallway would turn around and go look for another exit. Several people throughout the night (always an older white man, we couldn’t help but notice) were furious at being blocked. As they pushed and shoved the line of mostly young women hooking arms together, one protester would say, “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. We’ll do this for you if you’re ever detained.”
One man walked up behind us, but his flight was delayed because of all the protests, so he sat down and joined us. “This is my first protest!” he kept saying in an excited and proud way. We were glad the pizza showed up while he was with us so he could share in a slice with us. He liked the protester’s line that we’d come back for anyone who was detained. “I’m leaving for India tonight,” he said. “I feel like I’m in the middle of this. I don’t understand if I’ll be able to get back in.” We assured him we’d be right back here if we found out he was unethically held coming back.
My Civics class asked if we could go to May Day as a class, so that’s what we’re doing tomorrow. I was nervous at first to go to a protest with my students. Looking back on the night at the airport, I now can feel excited. I look forward to showing my students with my actions what I believe is right. If you’re in the crowd on May Day, I hope we get the chance to walk side by side! If you’re following the local news from home, friend me if you haven’t, and I’ll do my best to give you more information. Either way, I look forward to the debrief afterward!
Editor. "Alternative BLM Protest Focuses On Halting Displacement." South Seattle Emerald. 19 Apr. 2017. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
Groover, Heidi. "So Let's Revisit This Also, by @brendankiley Https://t.co/Slb4ZvgEMx Pic.twitter.com/CcmbofKVYN." Twitter. Twitter, 28 Apr. 2017. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
Oluo, Ijeoma. "When You Brag That The Women's Marches Were Nonviolent." The Establishment. The Establishment, 23 Jan. 2017. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
Schulberg, Jessica, and Elise Foley. "U.S. Expands Visa Waiver Restrictions For Recent Travelers To Libya, Somalia, Yemen." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 19 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
"Women of Color Speak Out." First of All, We Wish to Humbly Say To... - Women of Color Speak Out. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist