Grappling with what it means to be engaged as an activist for justice
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
~Sue Staropoli, September 2020
As I engage in responding to Daniel Prude’s death, witnessing all that is happening in our city – including protests, police violence in response to protestors, divisions among city officials, elders coming together to offer support, and much more – I'm trying to find my place.
One of the issues is the many different ways there are to "protest", to work for justice. How does one stay in partnership with others who have different approaches?
As a white person I am committed to following the lead of the black community, but different leaders of the black community have different approaches and solutions. Differences sometimes (not always) show up along generational lines. Many elders of the black community have decades of experience, going back to the non-violent protests of the 1960s, and they bring a wisdom that has come out of a history of struggle, albeit not fully effective in achieving justice. Younger black activists have a zeal and a passion – and impatience – that the movement needs to keep the urgency alive and the call for justice fresh.
Within these groups, some want to keep protesting, though with varying degrees of intensity; some express distrust in the system and readiness for radical solutions. Others want to get to the table soon, to work out solutions while the opportunity for dialogue and the societal demand for reform are alive. My heart aches when I see divisions within a group of people who want the same goal – justice for Daniel Prude and for all people of color. And I worry that these divisions play into the hands of factions who are working to keep our "side" divided.
Now, I find myself grappling with all of it. I have attended the protests quite a few nights, in some cases as part of an "elder" group, and now I am not sure that is where I fit. The angry, demonizing rhetoric of many of the protestors does not resonate with my commitment to peace and non-violence, but I know their rage is justified by decades of oppression. I also know that the issues are very complicated, with no simple solutions.
I have been learning from others, including many in my own family, with a range of perspectives on this situation. A reflection written by my husband Frank Staropoli, entitled "Violence: A Perspective," expresses much of the reality and tension within the community about this situation and the role of violence in our society both historically and at present. I realize I need to keep listening and deepening my compassion for the experiences and responses of all who are committed to justice, especially those who are victims.
And I need to keep listening to my own heart to discern where and how I’m meant to be part of this movement for justice.
For the moment I have become clearer about my own involvement:
1) Stay deeply engaged through prayer with the suffering of those oppressed by police violence and in so many other ways.
2) Stay open to opportunities to support those who protest, by serving food, making donations, publicizing events, and so forth – but probably not by marching.
3) Stay connected with the Elders & Allies group as its members continue to explore how the group can be a trusted presence, contributing to the movement for peace, justice, and healing in our community.
4) Participate actively with those who are planning specifically non-violent gatherings of solidarity with the cause of justice, such as the Silent Memorial for Black Lives Matter on October 9, 2020, in Highland Park.
5) Continue having conversations within my circles of influence to discuss these issues and promote compassion for all involved, bridging divides to sustain a unified yet multifaceted voice for justice, with different approaches respected.
I invite each person reading this to join me in this process of grappling. It is personal, and collective.
Listening to situations, listening to those close to you, listening to those who have been oppressed, listening to those with differing opinions, listening to your own heart.
This is a time of disruption, and this is a time for healing, of hearts and communities and our nation. May each of us find the right path for our unique contribution.
After I wrote the message above, the protest efforts led by Free the People Roc began to focus on occupying City Hall, where people gathered to continue demanding justice for Daniel Prude and all people of color. It was moving to be there, experiencing community in a profound way, as people of all colors, religions, ethnic, and class backgrounds shared friendship, food, music, and passionate speeches calling for each person to be an agent of justice demanding change in the oppressive structures in our community. I definitely fit in there, experiencing the diverse and beloved community that is possible here.
Soon after that FTP Roc put out a message that was important to hear: “We recognize that taking care of our collective health and well-being is a revolutionary act. Systems of oppression want to see us tired and beaten down. But we won’t give them that satisfaction. We urge those of you who have been out with us every night to rest, reflect, and recharge for the next set of actions. Our movement is just beginning.”
The group has now resumed daily actions. I am so grateful and proud to be part of this movement for justice, and I continue to listen for where I belong along the way.