People are Marching in the Streets and I’m Sitting on the Couch Watching Them on TV
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
People are Marching in the Streets
Social activism is alive and well in the United States. All you have to do is turn on your television to see the people marching in the streets. The reasons are as varied as America is diverse. Some estimate that there have been over 7000 protests in the U.S. since the beginning of 2017. Yes, counting protests is a thing. There are even an app and a website, CountLove.org, that was created to track the number of demonstrations and protests. The majority of demonstrations are related to immigration, civil rights, and racial injustice, though a lot is being swept up in those categories.
The March for Our Lives Protest
Between last weekend and this week, I sat on my couch and watched the images on my television of Americans marching together following horrendous killings. First, students from Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, attracted a following after 17 of their classmates were killed by a lone gunman and fellow student on Valentine’s Day. With cooperation from Everytown for Gun Safety, the surviving students organized one of the most massive protests against gun violence this country has ever seen. The March for Our Lives nationwide protest occurred March 24 in the nation’s capital. The purpose of the march was to protest gun violence in America and to bring an end to school shootings by advocating for stricter gun control laws. In addition to those who gathered in Washington, D.C., 800 other cities across the United States and the world joined in solidarity with the students.
Carefree Students One Day and Social Activists the Next
The Parkland, Florida, students are shaming politicians who receive money from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Many of them who are seniors and now eligible to vote are vowing to vote against any politician who receives money from the non-profit organization. And, they are asking fellow students across the country to register to vote and join them. I watched all of this from the comfort of my living room. I cried because I felt their pain. I also cried because I was overwhelmed with pride in those young people. Through their grief, the students used all the power they could muster to ensure their classmates’ deaths were not in vain and to work so that no one else would have to experience what they had. Eighteen-year-olds are actively leading the hashtag #NeverAgain movement. They were carefree students looking forward to summer and graduation. Now they are social activists whose voices won’t be quieted.
Say His Name: Stephon Clark
Second, Americans are marching to protest the death of an unarmed 22-year-old black man killed by Sacramento, California police on March 18, 2018. Stephon Clark was in the backyard of his grandmother’s home when police shot him eight times in the back and side according to an independent autopsy report requested by Clark’s family attorneys. The killing has sparked Black Lives Matter protests calling repeatedly for an end to the disproportionate, unjustified killing of black and brown people, especially black men, at the hands of police. I watched on the television the crowd of protesters, black and white together, gather to demand answers. We must say his name: Stephon Clark. He was a father to two young children. He was unarmed. He was shot in the back.
I don’t know all the facts of the story and this post is not meant to be an investigative report or an indictment against the police. There was a phone call reporting vandalism of cars in the neighborhood. Police responded to that call. It was dark. Clark was in the backyards of houses, appearing to be running to get away from police. That’s all that I know. More of the facts will emerge in the next weeks, I’m sure. I believe that the majority of police officers are good people and they want to get home at night. They want others to get back safely as well. My point here is that the shooting of unarmed Stephon Clark is another casualty that ignites feelings of injustice and inequities in police killings of people of color. This refrain leads people to take to the streets and demand that something changes.
The Outcry Started in the Black Community, But It Has Spread
According to a DiversityInc article written by Kaitlyn D’Onofrio, the data is clear. She writes that in 2017, police killed over 1,100 people and 27% of them were black despite blacks being just 13% of the population. Most of the unarmed people killed by police were black. In all the killings, officers got charged only 1% of the time. This perceived lack of accountability has led to an outcry that started mainly in the black community and now has spread across racial and ethnic communities who join in solidarity. I watched the marchers protest Stephon Clark’s death, and my heart sank. They were marching, and I was watching them on my TV.
This Article is About Protests and You and Me
So, what is this article about? Yes, it’s about the two very recent protests for human rights and civil rights. But, I wrote this also about me – and maybe you. Perhaps you were riveted in front of your television watching thousands of Americans participate in the protests and asking yourself, what am I to do about this? What is my role? Where am I? I’ve found that socially conscious and active people feel compelled to not be caught sitting on the sideline. You (and I) need to make a difference. That’s what we believe we were put here to do. It’s who we are.
I’ve learned that when experiences touch me at a deep level such that I am filled with compassion and conviction, I cannot just turn my TV off or turn my head and go on about my day. I have to take some action, however small it may be, to help improve the condition I witnessed.
What Can You Do to Bring Change?
I know we can’t participate in every march. It may be that participating in a demonstration is not how you work toward social justice. If you know, then do what is authentic to you. However, if you’re wondering what you can do, here are 7 Things You Can Do to Bring Change:
- Spread the word. Inform your family, friends, and neighbors about the causes you’re committed to and why. Make them aware of the issues.
- Post the website, hashtag or news article on your social sites. This exposure will exponentially enable others to become more familiar with the issue or cause.
- Donate. Protests and the daily work of making social change requires resources. Give to a cause you’re passionate about and ask others to join you. Facebook has a feature that allows you to add a “donate” button to your post to help increase the number of donations.
- Write letters of encouragement to those individuals who are working tirelessly on the frontlines for a specific cause. Your note can brighten their day and give them the energy to keep going. (I’m going to write a letter to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School).
- Make calls and send emails to your legislators. They represent you and the issues that concern you. If they don’t, then you know what you need to do next election.
- Vote. The right to vote is still the most powerful action we can take to bring about social change. Like the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, participate in a voter registration drive and volunteer to go door-to-door or make phone calls to give people facts about the issues and candidates.
- Share this blog post. If you have enjoyed reading this post and believe it offers good suggestions to get involved, send to your friends. Thank you.
Sometimes we do find ourselves watching the action from the sideline, from the couch in the comfort of our living rooms. That’s okay. However, if you are moved to act, then do whatever you can as soon as you can. People are marching in the streets. There is no shortage of causes. Pick what speaks to you and go.
What Will You Do with the One Life You’ve Been Given?
I opened this post with a quote by Mary Oliver. It’s one of my favorite quotes and one that helped me reach a simple yet meaningful answer. What is it I plan to do with the one life I’ve been given? I want the world to know that I’m here and I care.
When we know better, we do better.
© 2018 Tonya Harris Cornileus, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved.