Whether 30 people or 30,000 people (I’m look at you, Bostonians), every sociopolitical protest and rally has a strong, personal message behind it that we can all take away, whether or not you agree with the message.
I always try to take a lesson away from each rally and protest that I attend.
After covering the “Fight for $15” protest in front of the Massachusetts State House, I realized that I had – unknowingly – been turning a blind eye to people of lower socioeconomic status. Was this my fault? Well…yes and no. I was raised in a large community glutted with families cushioned by their well-fed wallets. For college, I choose to attend a well-established, rather expensive private university filled with students similar to the ones back at home in terms of the wealth. What I’m basically saying is, ignorance was bliss. I didn’t consciously and purposefully turn a blind eye to those who weren’t as fortunate. The people I unknowingly choose to surround myself were of the same, and mostly higher, socioeconomic status as me. After attending Fight for $15, I realized I needed to be more conscious of this. There was an entire social group that I was accidentally neglecting.
So, what did I take away from the counter-protests in Boston this past Saturday? 3 main lessons:
1. Be more than a slacktivist.
I frequently get asked what slacktivism is. If you really want to know, log onto your Twitter and Facebook accounts and scroll through your timeline. Do you see a couple of your friends posting (or should I say ranting) about politics on Facebook? How many of those people do anything political besides posting on Facebook, signing online petitions and sharing different campaign group posts. Odds are, if that’s all they do, they’re a “slacktivist”. And yes, it’s a real word.
Slacktivists put in minimal effort towards causes that they support. Sure, sharing a post online increases conversations about certain political topics, but are you calling your Senators? Are you going out to rallies? Do more than just clicking the “share” or “retweet” button. Studies show if you like or share a cause on Facebook, chances are you are less likely to actually contribute to it. Now I know, not everyone has the time and money to contribute to every political cause. Pick one and stick at it. Or if you share something on social media, take the time to truly understand the post and its purpose.
2. Always support fellow minorities
I can’t stress how important it is for minorities to support each other. I’m talking to you specifically, fellow Asian-Americans (or American-Asians). Now is not the time to sit back quietly because you aren’t a “targeted” minority. Now if the time to speak up and gather with other fellow minorities. And on that point, don’t stay passive in the face of racism.
Whenever someone hurdles a racist remark towards me, I try my best to vocalize my anger and/or discomfort over the situation in a calm manner. I always try to verbally handle any race-charged incident with at least some composure in an attempt to educate the other party. Sometimes, it works. Other times, it totally backfires and I realize that no matter how long I sit there and talk to the person, only time and exposure will alleviate their ignorance. If you realize that you won’t be able to change their mind in that moment, don’t feel as though you wasted your time. Every respectable interaction and clean debate that person has with a minority is another step towards them changing their racist mindset.
3. If you are a white American, speak up and speak out.
I helped tape up rally signs, banners and posters onto the metal chain-link fences that the City of Boston put up around the Boston Commons with other protesters. The other person who was helping me the entire time? A white man.
I saw a rally sign this past Saturday that said, very simply, “White silence is violence”. Although I don’t think staying silent is equivalent to socking someone in the face, I do think, metaphorically, it’s just as bad. If you are privileged enough to be coddled by society because of your lighter skin tone, use this privilege to help teach those around you about the importance of opening your eyes to the mistreatment of people of color. Quietly sulking in your grief and discomfort is no longer – and should have never been – enough. You can’t hope the race problems will disappear if you turn a blind eye to it.
We need to all stand as a united front, and we can’t do so if the majority isn’t willing to talk about the issues that they have harbored within their own ethnic group. And I understand, it’s hard to talk about issues like this, especially if you already feel guilty about it. Like me at the Fight for $15 rally, I felt guilty for not acknowledging my ignorance. But now, especially in our current political climate, is not the time to shove these thoughts shielded by guilt and ignorance to the back of your minds. Silence is acceptance. Am I asking you to go out and start a violent riot? Of course not. Start a civil dialogue with your peers.
Cover image courtesy of Katrina Hidalgo.