Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Language of the Unheard

When is it okay to protest?


Who gets to say?

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernack has been a focal point of that discussion since he chose not to stand for the national anthem in protest against police brutality.  For the past month, other athletes have joined him in kneeling through the anthem, an action that has prompted anger, accusation and some healthy discussion.

Blogger Erin Hensley Schultz asks:
I wonder when, exactly, is the right time for a protest. I wonder where, exactly, is the right place. . .
Since you said, “We wouldn’t mind peaceful protests,” that’s what Colin Kaepernick did. You actually can’t get much more peaceful than that. He just sat. He didn’t yell. He didn’t hold up a sign. He didn’t throw punches or set fire to anything. He just sat.
America collectively lost its mind over this.
“We wouldn’t mind peaceful protests, just not like that. It was the wrong time and place. It was inappropriate. It was disrespectful. It was distracting.”
People are burning his jersey. Boycotting his team. Using his name as a swear word. He is vilified and called a disgrace. People are FURIOUS. . .
Maybe we’d be okay with it if he protested peacefully…  at home? Alone? With the curtains drawn? In the middle of a Tuesday night? That… that kind of defeats the purpose of a protest.
What should protest look like?

In Charlotte this week thousands took to the streets, in gatherings by some accounts violent and irresponsible, by other accounts peaceful until inflamed by tear gas, rubber bullets and “military styled maneuvers.” 

According to Pastor William Barber II, a leader in the protest:
Anyone who is concerned about violence in Charlotte should note that no one declared a state of emergency when the city’s schools were resegregated, creating a school-to-prison pipeline for thousands of poor African-American children. Few voiced outrage over the damage caused when half a million North Carolinians were denied health insurance because the Legislature refused to expand Medicaid.
When Charlotte’s poor black neighborhoods were afflicted with disproportionate law enforcement during the war on drugs, condemning a whole generation to bad credit and a lack of job opportunities, our elected representatives didn’t call it violence. When immigration officers raid homes and snatch undocumented children from bus stops, they don’t call it violence. But all of these policies and practices do violence to the lives of thousands of Charlotte residents.
As a pastor and an organizer, I do not condone violent protest. But I must join the Charlotte demonstrators in condemning the systemic violence that threatened Mr. Scott’s body long before an officer decided to use lethal force against him. And I must condemn the militarization of Charlotte by the authorities who do not want to address the fundamental concerns of protesters. 
I’ve been watching that situation with sadness and prayer.

I’ve also been watching the protests on Standing Rock Reservation, where our church helped run summer camps for years and a good friend works with Native youth. In May, Lakota teens organized a relay run to deliver a petition against pipeline construction that threatened tribal water supplies and historic burial grounds. Since then, the Lakota have been joined by more Sioux tribes as well as non-Native supporters, in what now is described as the largest gathering of Native Americans in over a century.

The gathering has worked hard to remain peaceful but protestors, by at least some reports, have been arrested, attacked by pipeline company dogs, pepper-sprayed and maced.  

There has been little press coverage but according to former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, in mid-September, 
a federal judge denied the tribe’s request for a temporary injunction to stop construction. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg, while acknowledging that “the United States’ relationship with the Indian tribes has been contentious and tragic,” ruled that the tribe failed to show that it will be harmed by the construction. This despite claims from the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that areas of cultural and historical significance will be destroyed.
Later that same day, the Department of Justice, Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior halted construction saying “this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”
This fall, the DOJ, DOA, and DOI will invite tribes to formal government-to-government consultations on how the federal government can better ensure meaningful tribal input on infrastructure projects.
. . . While the move by the administration to involve Native Americans in communication and planning on infrastructure projects is commendable, it is also too little too late for the Sioux in North Dakota.
After all, the halt is only temporary. The matter has been referred back to the Army Corps of Engineers to review its river crossing permit. It only pauses work within a 20-mile radius of Lake Oahe, which will soon be the last missing link with few alternative options now that it is too late for a major reroute. The pipeline is already half-built.
The Sioux have promised to continue their protest through the winter.

The protestors of Charlotte aren’t sure what comes next.

But certainly, we have not seen the end of protest.

Our nation was formed by protest, founded by men who insisted on fair treatment.

We celebrate their determined resistance: the Tea Party, an act of civil disobedience that damaged private property. Tarring and feathering of Customs employees, an act of overt violence. The Stamp Act Riots which left homes and businesses in ruins and planted the seeds of revolution.

Then, as now, there were voices calling for non-violent solutions. There were colonists who urged patience while others, more angry, set patience aside.

Patrick Henry’s famous speech urged violent rebellion:
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House.
Ten years! For just ten years Henry and his colleagues had asked for redress of grievance and been forced to wait for a just response. 
Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. 
Henry’s famous conclusion: 
Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! 
Interesting that the same voices that so fervently praise our founding fathers and cling to their constitution can speak so harshly of their freedom-loving heirs.

In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from Birmingham jail of the inequities facing African Americans and the long hard struggle to gain the vote:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
Two years later, King expanded that idea in a speech about The Other America delivered at Stanford University: 
I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
This weekend, fifty years later, our first black president led festivities at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

Surely the fact of a African American president is a sign of hope, as is the opening of a museum that gives voice to parts of our American story too often left unheard.

Yet we are living in a time of mounting protest, with many voices still unheard and fifty years of progress unraveling.

To quote MLK, “Large segments of white society are still more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.”

The new museum is in the shadow of the Washington Memorial.  I find myself wondering: why do we celebrate the violent resistance that gave birth to our country while denouncing more peacefl protest from Americans still waiting to live as equal under the law? 

Why do those so eager to uphold the right to bear arms care so little about more essential rights: the right to be heard in our political process. The right to equitable education, fair housing, equal protection under the law.
As long as America postpones justice, we will have protest.

Some will be peaceful.

Some not.

I am looking for candidates – at every level – who understand that racial profiling, cries for “law and order,” promises to “stop and frisk” will not guarantee our safety.

I am looking for candidates who know how to listen before they speak. 

Who can imaginatively enter stories not their own.

And I am looking for ways to stand with, sit with, kneel with those whose voices are still unheard.

This post is part of a series on What's Your Platform 
Beyond the Party Platform July 24, 2016
A Different Way July 31, 2016 
Election Fraud and Rigged Elections, August 10, 2016 
How Long Will the Land Lie Parched? August 21, 2016 
Walls, Welcome, Mercy, Law August 28, 2016
Workers and Their Wages, Sep 3, 2016 
Educating Ourselves On Education, Sep 10, 2016 
Let's Talk, Sep 17, 2016