It’s early afternoon on a Saturday, and I’m at a bar table eating breakfast, watching CNN cover tens of thousands of counter protesters in the streets of downtown Boston.
The high top I’m seated at is within Club Cafe, an establishment I’ve frequented before, though never in the light of day. It is quiet and tame, in pure opposition to its lively evening persona. There are no drag queens or strobe lights, just a handful of people like me, our eyes glued to television screens watching what’s happening just a few blocks away.
A half hour before, I had been stuck between swarms of other counter protesters, on a particularly congested portion of Charles Street. We had been walking for the better part of the last four hours, hoisting signs and chanting phrases, all in solidarity against bigotry and hate. It was only when I sat atop that stool in Club Cafe that I learned what was causing the standstill.
The picture became even clearer as I sat in the front seat next to my Lyft driver, both of us enthralled in the conversations taking place on the radio. Reports came in, informing us that the “free speech rally” organizers had been escorted off the Boston Common to safety by Boston Police. In an event that most of us did not anticipate, our counter protest (tallying roughly 40,000 people) overwhelmed their group that numbered in the few hundreds.
“There are people in this country who come from all over the world,” my Lyft driver, Andrew, exclaimed. “I would like to see us all live in harmony.”
I offered my agreements, saying, “I could not agree more. There is room for all of us here.”
Boston is a city that’s not without its own racially charged history. Since moving here nearly one year ago, I have learned about it’s history with racism (forced busing), and what that looks like today (gentrification). There is still work to be done, but the events of this weekend are evidence that if there is ever a group of people capable of rising above a murky past, it’s this one.
I’m not naive in thinking this will happen overnight. I don’t presume to know even the capacity in which it will occur. I know that it will be a long and imperfect fight, and the same is true about that of our entire country.
I was fortunate enough to be near the organizers before the march began, listening as they spoke about their experiences. I am not articulate enough to be able to convey the emotion, passion, and light that exuded from these individuals.
To say they were inspiring would be an understatement; to say I feel grateful to witness their magic would be equally so.
As a queer woman, I know how it feels to be oppressed, but I also know that I hold privilege as a white person. Part of my responsibility as a white person is taking that knowledge and acting on it. Part of my responsibility is not speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves, but rather elevating their voices so they can be heard.
I am responsible for standing with them, for walking beside them, for telling whoever will listen that freedom isn’t freedom if it isn’t extended to everyone. If I stay silent, I allow these unconscionable acts to continue.
If we stand on the sidelines and don’t engage, we allow the cycle to repeat again and again. Silence equals consent.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia only the week prior would have shocked any younger version of myself, causing me to say, “What is happening to our country?”
But months of educating myself, while enduring the nuisance that is the Trump administration, made it so I knew better than to be shocked. I was saddened and angry and hopeless, but not shocked.
The truth is that the acts of violence and injustice don’t shock me any more. In fact, it is actually the opposite that is true.
What surprises me is when love, compassion, and bravery prevail over hatred and ignorance. What surprises me is when human beings are given a chance to show their true colors, to rise above the fray and stand for something more, and they actually do it. My surprise lies in witnessing people look the uncomfortable knowledge of their privilege in the eyes, and say, “this ends here.”
So, you can imagine my surprise when I turned around to look behind me, finding the street filled with so many people that I couldn’t see the end of them.
You can imagine my surprise, when I read their signs which stated powerful and loving messages, each reaffirming my belief in the goodness of everyday people.
I was reminded of my own lack of hope. I was bolstered by others’ bravery and strength.
I followed. I marched. I listened.
Arms raised with signs above my head, I echoed their voices and they echoed mine.
I watched as strangers passed around sunscreen and loaves of Challah bread. I listened to beautiful harmonies and hummed along.
Realizing I came thoroughly under-prepared, I was offered a string cheese from a beautiful man wearing a red sweatband.
Anytime walking in the heat started to feel overwhelming, another powerful experience would raise my spirits and renew my energy: children waving from apartment windows; priests and store owners standing and smiling in doorways; a man with a megaphone asking all the “old white people” to chant “thank you, Obama,” (which they did, with furtive vigor).
No matter our color, religion, sexuality, nationality, or gender, we were not alone.
None of us were alone, not there.
None of us are alone, not anywhere.