Friday, February 10, 2017

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

A while back, I attended yet another protest--this one much smaller in scale. A group of us went to one of our senators' local offices and spoke to his staff there.

We all went inside to speak to the senator's staff, who were very friendly and professional. I expressed my concerns with DeVos and education, and my concerns with Sessions and the Muslim ban executive order. It was all in all a very pleasant experience. I mean, the crowd was mostly elderly white people. They weren't really rabble rousers.

It also helped that there was no police presence during our protest. As I mentioned in my Women's March post, police presence among white people can be almost a background element, but when police are called in because a protest is happening, even if the crowd is white, it immediately changes the tone and environment of a protest. It puts people on the defensive and makes them feel like they're under attack--and in many cases, they are. The police set the tone with how they approach the situation--calm and genial, or armored and armed.

It definitely speaks to my preconceptions, but when I see old, white, Southern people out, I immediately expect them to start ranting about Muslims taking over our country, or Barack Obama being a Kenyan socialist, or some other nonsense. To see so many people expressing concern, frustration, and anger at 45 and his blunderfuck of a first week gave me some hope.

There was a Muslim family that arrived slightly late and kept to the back of the group with me, so I got to chat with them a little bit. Their story is like so many others'--they have family that has been going through the process to be allowed into our country, and now they're worried they'll be denied entry. Their bravery to come to a protest--especially in a red state like Arkansas--was breathtaking. While I figured the protest would be small, if there were any counter protesters or if the cops did get called for whatever reason, they were taking a big risk.

After speaking with our Senator's office, we discussed further potential actions, encouraged each other to keep up the protests and calls--the Tea Party was cited as proof that this can work if we stick to it. We pointed each other toward resources for upcoming events--the Science March, the Tax Day march, local events and meetings of activists groups--and then, most people packed up and went home.

I was about to leave myself, but hung back because the the local news asked to interview the Muslim man and his family. I saw him wrestling with the idea, and he asked me and a few others if we would stand with him while he did it. We agreed. He clearly wanted to say something, but needed the moral support.

He kept his voice calm, respectful, and chose his words carefully, but this was clearly something that he was emotional about--of course. At one point, he got a bit fired up and started to say something about the new administration, and then stopped himself. Instead, he said, "This is a very scary time. The future is very unsure. But we are proud to be Americans. And the support that everyone showed here today fills me with hope."

His statement wasn't in any way shape or form radical. And yet, he started and stopped several times, requesting they let him start a thought over, or taking time to compose his thoughts. He chose his words with extreme care. Watching him struggle for just the right tone of non-threatening admonishment was heartbreaking and infuriating. The white people that had gathered together were able to be incoherent, hurt, angry, annoyed. They were allowed a full range of emotions. But this man had to keep himself tightly composed lest he send the wrong message.

The remaining five of us were getting ready to leave when some white lady came over. I couldn't hear her at first. She was too far away from where I was standing. All I could make out was, "...they're coming." At first, I thought she was someone from the protest that I didn't recognize--maybe a late arrival, so the first thing my mind jumped to was some sort of counter protest. Then I heard an older man standing closer to her shout, "Did you call the cops on the TEA PARTY when they were here protesting??"

I assume that she worked at one of the nearby businesses that shared the parking lot with the office because she smiled in that smug, self-satisfied way that petty people do when they think they're really getting one over on someone and said, "We do this for everyone. You're allowed your opinion..." and I didn't hear the rest because the older man jumped in to start arguing with her again.

I'll admit, a contrarian part of me wanted to stay just out of spite. I didn't want that lady to think I was leaving because she claimed she called the cops. Plus, we were legitimately doing nothing--the protest was over. Everyone had left. We were five people standing on a sidewalk. Everything was already done.

I hung back long enough to make sure the Muslim family was leaving--I was worried what an encounter with the police would mean for them. Once they left, I left, too.

Something that continues to impress me is how petty conservative people can be. I see a group of pro-life people standing outside of a Planned Parenthood literally every weekend. Somehow, the vitriol, obstruction, and hatred directed at liberals, minorities, and President Obama were fine. Now, when the shoe is on the other foot, liberals are expected to just get on with life and any disagreement is treated tantamount to treason, or at least greeted with a snide "snowflake," "safe space," or other things Twitter eggs consider the height of intellectual discourse. It's a cognitive dissonance that continues to surprise me even though it shouldn't.

All that said, seeing this kind of action, even if it's just small, local stuff, makes me feel some hope. The problems our nation is facing isn't going unnoticed. Even in my deeply red state, people have been awakened and they're pushing back. As the protest chant goes: "The people united will never be divided."