I have spent most of my Saturday night and Sunday trying to find the time and energy to write my Sunday thoughts column. I was going to write about the lifespan of an absentee ballot to combat some of the myths of mail in voting fraud. I will save that for another day. Today that all seems so trivial.
Since waking up in the middle of the night and hearing that we are on lockdown and in a state of emergency because some rioters took advantage of righteous peaceful protests I have been pondering what to say. I love my hometown, its part of my identity. I grew up here, went to city schools most of my young life, chose to move back into the Syracuse in my mid-twenties and have stayed here ever since. For almost 12 years I worked for City Government, represented all different areas of my city on the Onondaga County Democratic Committee, walked in every neighborhood, and love every part of it. To see it succumb to the forces ripping our nation apart is heart breaking.
Yet why should our city be immune? The scourge of racism and police brutality is pervasive and ever present. For too long I have tried to believe that actions I took alone could help. I made myself available to register inner city youths to vote. I appeared on radio programs designed to reach immigrant and inner city communities. I fought for polling places and Early Voting centers in those neighborhoods. I chose to remain in the city, sending my daughter to graduate at a city high school and my son attends the same elementary school I attended as a child, one of the most diverse in Syracuse. I tried to promote a more diverse workforce at the Onondaga County Board of Elections. These are things I pride myself in and hold dear to my heart.
Today I know none of these things are enough. It’s not enough when unarmed people are dying frequently. It’s not enough when NY lawmakers are arrested during peaceful protests in NYC. It’s not enough when sedans plow into barricades. It’s not enough when people on their porches are antagonized by national guards shooting paint pellets in residential neighborhoods. It’s not enough when media covering protests are arrested on live television.
I know I will never fear for my life if I am pulled over by the cops and reach for my wallet in the wrong way. I know my daughter doesn’t have to worry that the police will kick in her door and cause her harm while serving a warrant on the wrong apartment. I know my 11 year old son will not be gunned down in a park because an officer mistook his toy gun for a real one. I know that too many people live with these fears because of the color of their skin. I know that their pain and anguish cannot be erased through slogans and platitudes.
However for all the things I say I know, the truth remains there is so much I don’t know. I certainly don’t know how rioting and destroying property will bring about the systemic change that is needed, nor do I understand the need to dismiss these protests because their anguish has boiled over. There are business owners who are hurting as well. People who were looking forward to opening their stores after months of economic upheaval and now face the prospect of damage and further delays. I don’t know exactly who decided to not listen to the leaders of protests who are begging for non-violent expression, and I don’t know if pointing out property destruction will matter to anyone in fear of their life or their loved ones being senselessly harmed.
These protests and mass gatherings are also happening in the midst of a national pandemic. A pandemic that has hurt communities of color more than any other. This will likely exasperate the situation and too many will dismiss that fact as they have during the entire crisis. There is no national call for unity coming from the White house only calls to blame boogeymen on the left and the protesters themselves instead of dealing with the underlying issues they are protesting against.
Truly none of us have the right answers. We must confront racism, we must confront racists, and we must protect those we love. However this war won’t be won on social media. Blasting away at friends and probable allies on may make you feel good, but it won’t win your cause. In fact it’s too easy. The real work is in the streets, the real work is at the council meetings, at the legislative sessions, taking on the system that creates these issues. Educate allies, build coalitions, seek change, and yes, at the end of the day, vote.
What I will try to do is listen to those communities affected by this the most. Give them the spaces and megaphones needed to demand change. We must listen to their pain and try to understand their anguish. After that is done, we can find a way to lift those voices, remove the barriers that keep them from achieving the power they need to make the changes needed to a system that is too blind to their needs. We must hold those who cause unnecessary harm accountable and demand better from allies to timid to help.
Black lives matter whether we want to acknowledge that or not. We all must find ways to do more, to be better, and have the courage to get out of the way and follow the direction of those who have been hurt the most. No one should have to live in fear from those who are supposed to serve and protect. More importantly no one should have to protest for justice to be done. We should all be working towards a world where it is assumed justice will be done without having to demand it.