I Went to Demand that Georgia Count Every Vote. And I (re)Learned an Important Lesson about America.

I went to the Capitol to demand that Georgia Count Every Vote. I left with a much deeper understanding of race in America.

When this came across my Facebook feed earlier this week, I immediately cleared my schedule to go:

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I believe that protest DOES matter, that it can change things. And I’ve also come to believe that it is time for white women to shoulder a far more significant share of the burden of protest. Women of color have carried us for far too long. It’s time to step up and do work that benefits ALL women and all people (white feminism is notorious for it’s disregard for the plight of WOC, trans women, poor women).

Protests also connect me with other folks waging an internal war against the injustices in America. They make me feel like I am DOING something. Something tangible. Something real.

I marched through the streets of Atlanta during the summer of 2016 to protest the murder of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. And I believe it mattered. Seeing white faces protesting black deaths changes the narrative. This is not a “black problem.’ It is an American problem. It is a race problem. And white folks must play a role–a significant role–in solving it.

At every big march I’ve attended, with thousands of people protesting impending fascism, blatant racism, & police brutality, I’ve been aware of the potential for violence from the police. When I walked into the Capitol on Tuesday, the thought never crossed my mind. Why would it? We were there to demand that the state of Georgia count every vote. That is a concept SO BASIC to democracy that there couldn’t possibly be an issue.

Right?

The rally/protest began with a prepared statement about why we were there & what we wanted:

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I wish I knew all the social justice activists in these photos. I don’t. They’re doing the hard work on the ground, and they deserve recognition for it.

From there, we headed to the Secretary of State’s office with a demand to, you guessed it, count every vote. That looked a lot like a bunch of folks trying to crowd in an itty bitty room:

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Don’t think my claustrophobia wasn’t in high gear in this situation.

Are you bored yet? Good. Because that’s the thing… NOTHING wild was happening. People weren’t shouting obscenities. Or zip-tying themselves to furniture. But, one of the Georgia State Patrol officers was NOT feeling us being there. He muscled his way through the crowd, insisting that we couldn’t sing or chant because there was BUSINESS going on in the Capitol. (He’s right. Legally, it seems, singing & chanting is a no-go. But the defense of basic democracy is pretty serious business, too)

At that point, the officer said if there was singing or chanting, we’d be removed from the Capitol. Now, maybe it’s my white girl naiveté, but I thought “removed from the Capitol” meant kicked out. What else could it mean?

These are images of the protest in full swing. Clearly, I did not sense any danger lurking. I’m taking goofy pictures of a statue of a dead white guy & my super-cool sign, for God’s sake. Yes, people cheered. And yes, they started to sing. Singing. They were SINGING.

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This woman was the first one SNATCHED up by police. Literally. The photo is blurry because I was shaking.

I could sense the cops, especially the one who’d been on & on about the BUSINESS occurring in the Capitol, getting more tense. And then, suddenly that same Georgia Patrol pushed past me to grab the woman pictured above. I was doing the exact same thing she was. Exactly. Yet, he pushed me out of the way to grab her (roughly. Way too forcefully, since she’d been SINGING and holding a sign just a minute before). She started yelling because her purse had been on the floor next to her, and she was being dragged away from all her personal belongings. He was screaming at her that they’d get her purse to her. Screaming.

I finally pulled my shit together enough to grab her purse for her & start taking pictures. But I was hella freaked out. Hence the burry, shaky pictures.

Knowing, intellectually, that black people are more at risk for arrest is one thing. Seeing that kind of racism play out is another. And, through my head the whole time ran the refrain: What if they kill her? What if they kill her? What if they kill her? And I knew, in that moment, that I didn’t do enough. Because I was scared. But I should’ve put myself between her & the officer. Because he only targeted her because she was black. And I knew it. But I didn’t put myself between him and her. And I regret it.

This is what unfolded as I was processing my own fear & regret:

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This was all happening SO fast. This young man was in the first round of arrests. He’s not resisting.
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And, if he wasn’t resisting, why did it take SO many officers to subdue him? He was upset his glasses got knocked off his face–because he couldn’t see. And he lost his phone. But I’ve seen people behave more intensely in a grocery store checkout line than this young man.
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This is the Georgia State Patrol that manhandled the first black woman arrested (the one he pushed PAST me to get to). He did not like this woman filming/photographing him. So he yelled at her to get back. Then he put his hands on her. For no reason. At all.

None of the arrests that took place yesterday should’ve happened. But the force with which these first arrests were executed by some of the officers was frightening. And illuminating. I know black folks move through a different America than I do. I am privileged simply because of the color of my skin–and that’s some bullshit right there. But KNOWING it and SEEING it are different. And it cannot be unseen.

In the face of all this excessive force and the questionable nature of the arrests themselves, there were 2 officers that I saw trying damn hard to do their jobs with integrity. Both of them are visible in the photo of the young black man being handcuffed above. The black officer made every attempt to de-escalate an incredibly tense and increasingly volatile situation. From where I was standing (and I was close), he appeared to be patting the young man on the back to reassure him and was speaking to him in low tones in an effort to calm the situation. The white officer next to him (with his back to the camera) showed basic humanity by picking up the young man’s glasses and phone and handing them to one of the man’s acquaintances, ensuring that they didn’t get lost or broken.

After the initial round of arrests, the police presence remained tense. They were prepping for more arrests on their walkie-talkies. NOT preparing to ask folks to leave. Preparing arrest them. And arrest them they did. One after one, they paraded out black protesters. And apparently, even being a state senator didn’t offer any protection:

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But whiteness was enough to protect Representative David Dryer, who was standing right next to Senator Nikema Williams, from getting arrested. He knows it. Anyone who was there yesterday has no doubt that it’s true. Listen to him tell the story:

Nothing I experienced yesterday was unique. Not in America. The idea that somehow we live in a post-racial world grows more absurd by the day. And it is only my privilege as a white woman that has kept me from experiencing this type of police aggression and blatant racial targeting before now.

Black folks have been telling us what’s up for years. Good for you if you’ve been listening. But as racism and aggression grows in America, it’s not enough to be intellectually opposed to racism. As white people, we must become virulently anti-racism. We must put our bodies between black bodies and the aggressor that seeks to harm them. And I’ll be the first to tell you that’s going to be scary as hell. But the future of our country depends on it. Be certain of that.

4 Reasons I Took My Kid to March For Our Lives Atlanta

At 7 years old, my daughter, has already attended seven civil rights marches (if you count the five Pride parades she’s attended—and I do. Oh, I do.). I don’t come from a long line of activists. In fact, my parents always seem (not so secretly) appalled that I let Jane march through the streets holding signs, chanting, and generally being a rabble-rouser. But here’s the thing: Jane was born into activism.

At 7 years old, my daughter, has already attended seven civil rights marches (if you count the five Pride parades she’s attended—and I do. Oh, I do.). I don’t come from a long line of activists. In fact, my parents always seem (not so secretly) appalled that I let Jane march through the streets holding signs, chanting, and generally being a rabble-rouser. But here’s the thing: Jane was born into activism.

Jane’s the pride & joy of two queer parents. She popped out of the womb—fist raised in the air (literally)—into a family different than the traditional, hetero-normative nuclear family. We took Jane to her first Pride when she was 6 months old. I mean, how could we go wrong? Rainbows. Glitter. Messages of acceptance and love. But even more than that, in a world way too often homophobic and unwelcoming, Pride is a place where we can make the radical statement that LGBTQ+ folks matter. Unequivocably. Pride is still a radical, political act—an act of defiance against those who try to marginalize and “other” us. And Jane took the whole thing in wearing a fabulous pink tutu that was all the rage with the gay men who cheered every time they saw her.

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Jane getting ALL the attention (and beads) at St Pete Pride

But our social consciousness can’t just be limited to LGBTQ issues. The Summer of 2016 drove that home for me. That summer was notable for two reasons: we’d just moved to Atlanta from suburban Tampa, Florida and two black men died at the hands of the police in less than a week. I did the only thing I could do. I marched through the streets of Atlanta, holding a sign that read “Black Lives Matter,” wondering how in 2016 that could be a controversial statement. When she found out I was going to march, Jane wanted to go with me. But I was afraid. The night before the march, officers had been gunned down in Dallas. I didn’t know if the protests would turn violent—not at the hands of the protesters but at the hands of folks insisting that black lives don’t matter. But then I got to the march. Entire African American families had turned out to march. Together. Little kids on shoulders. Moms chanting with their kids. Those kids were there because their lives were on the line. Who was I to choose to shield my child from a reality that children of color face every day? That march transformed me.

Now, when I march, Jane marches, too. Here are the 4 reasons that I took my 7 year old to March for Our Lives Atlanta:

Jane needs to witness both the beauty and pain in the world. Yes, even at 7 years old. Celebrating beauty with kids is easy: smiling faces in Instagram photos, impromptu dance parties, birthday cupcakes at school. Talking about suffering is more difficult to navigate. White Americans have created a mythology of childhood innocence, which is based in our own privilege–and that works against children of color. But, if we stay present our surroundings, we’re presented with countless opportunities to talk with kids–in an age-appropriate way–about the hard stuff. Heck, Disney gives us an opportunity to talk about death after the opening of almost every animated feature.

During the Summer of 2016, I did some serious mental gymnastics trying to explain to Jane how black men died at the hands of police. I didn’t want her to fear police officers. I understand that there are good police officers. But I needed her to know that, for people of color, the police aren’t always helpers. That reality has to drive Jane’s choices when she’s with her friends of color. That need to be real, the knowledge that I can’t put a child of color at risk because I need to keep my child’s innocence intact, won out. Since then, we’ve talked about the hard things. Even school shootings. Knowledge hasn’t broken her spirit. But she is more aware of injustice. And she’s even more prone to compassion. We march so Jane can bear witness to loss and fear alongside the deep sense of hope and power that comes from marching with 30,000+ likeminded souls.

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Protect Kids, Not Guns

Jane deserves to find her own voice. My generation created a world in which lockdown drills are the norm—like tornado drills, except school shootings are a disaster of our own making. Shortly after the MSD shooting, I sat in a meeting where my daughter’s Principal explained active shooter protocol. Here’s the wrenching truth: during a lockdown, the classroom doors are locked. Teachers are instructed not to open the doors until the all clear is given. If a child is out of the classroom—in the bathroom, in the library, walking down the hallway—they will not be able to get back in. Let that sink in for a minute. In a lockdown, Jane could be left alone. Totally alone to fend for herself.

I sat in stunned silence during this meeting, trying to hold it together. Then the dread crept in. Because I knew that I couldn’t put off it off any longer: I had to talk to my 7 year old about active shooter protocol. It doesn’t matter that, statistically, it’s unlikely to happen in her school. That statistic didn’t protect the kids at Sandy Hook or Marjory Stoneman Douglas. But even if the worst never happens (and I pray, like every parent, that it doesn’t), I didn’t want her to be completely unprepared for her first active shooter drill and be alone and afraid. Even during a practice drill, that thought was more than I could bear.

Jane and I talked about what lockdown meant. I told her what to do if she was away from her classroom. She cried, while I tried valiantly not to. No matter how age-appropriate the conversation, the idea of a stranger coming into Jane’s school is just plain terrifying to her. I held her while she cried. We talked about the unlikelihood of a shooting ever happening at her school. We’re just being prepared, I reminded her. I also took the opportunity to praise her ability to feel things and let them go. Nothing was helping.

Then, out of sheer desperation, I offered: “You know, these kids from Parkland, they’re planning a march.” She perked up a bit. I continued, “They want to tell people that they don’t want guns to be easy to get anymore.”

“Like gun control?” she responded. I forget the kid is always listening.

“Yes, like gun control. And they’re going to march and tell the world that being scared at school isn’t okay.”

She looked me dead in the eye. “I want to go to that march, too.”

And, so, we did. We marched to give Jane a voice about the violence that impacts her world. We marched so that she could say, loudly, “Not One More.”

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Jane being Jane–wearing rainbows & speaking out for gun control

Jane should see first-hand the power of the people. Kids sometimes feel powerless. The world is big. They are small. And the systems that oppress people feel monolithic. Our government officials seem to be bought and sold by the likes of the NRA. Our president calls people names and bullies anyone who stands up against him. Truthfully, sometimes I feel powerless against this huge mess we’ve created.

But people in action have power. Together, all of us—kids, too–can fight our way towards justice. When people unite, big things can happen. After yet another school shooting, the kids from Parkland refused to let this be our norm. They organized with other gun control activists (namely, people of color who’ve been doing this work for years and years) to say #NeverAgain and #NotOneMore. And hundreds of thousands of people turned up all over the country. Even though they’d like to, politicians can’t ignore these kids anymore.

Together we can do big things. I wish I’d know that when I was 7. And I’m thankful that my daughter gets to witness the power of the people now. The leadership of the kids from Parkland and the myriad of black activists that are—and have been–speaking out against gun violence in communities all across the nation are awe-inspiring. They remind me what our democracy can look like. And, as we chanted “Tell me what democracy looks like. THIS is what democracy looks like” while we marched, Jane learned how powerful a people, united, can be.

Jane needs to know how many people care. She’s 7. What she knows is complex yet breath-takingly simple: 17 people went to school one day and never came back. She knows that she is afraid. She hears murmurs from other kids. She imagines what it would be like for a stranger to be in her school. And then she stops. She doesn’t know what to imagine next. For that, I’m grateful. Jane needs to see that adults—the people who are supposed to look out for her—do care that she is frightened. And we plan to do something about it. We will march. We will vote. We will not let up until things change. But most of all, what I want her to know is that other kids care enough to make sure that this never, ever happens in her school. That is powerful. For her and for me.

Reawakening

Emma Gonzalez is a warrior. Just days after witnessing the slaughter of her classmates, Gonzalez delivered a powerful, gut-punch speech that spoke truth to power. She spoke through tears. She yelled to be heard. And then she practically took over the entire internet, with repost after repost of her speech on traditional media, Facebook & Twitter. I’ve watched the video of her speech over and over again. And I wonder, where did the Emma Gonzalez in me go?

The fierceness that radiates from Gonzalez…it looks and feels familiar. Just seeing her take the podium snapped me back to my college activism days. I felt radical then—exposed to the women’s and LGBT movements and empowered by the notion that I could change the world. I spoke without fear then. I challenged my traditional upbringing. I fought against a culture that would rather I have stayed in the closet. I called b.s.—albeit on a much smaller scale.

But Gonzalez isn’t “finding herself” on a college campus somewhere. She discovered her voice as an 18 year old, high school senior. Most seniors get to focus on attending prom, organizing senior skip day, and planning for college. Gonzalez, on the other hand, is addressing a nation, via repost after repost, about the horrors of gun violence. She’s already faced the hard truth that the gun lobby owns many of our congressional leaders. And that isn’t about to stop her. She understands that politicians care more about being re-elected than passing reasonable gun control necessary to save children’s lives. That isn’t going to stop her, either. She calls b.s. on it all and pushes forward to do the real, necessary work of stopping the murder of kids at their own schools.

We, the adults in America, have failed. We bought the lie that we are powerless to change American policy and American culture. We have given up.

What happened to the Emma Gonzalez in me? I listened to the adults. I took to heart their assertion that I’d never get anywhere by being too “angry,” too “militant.” I let them silence me by believing my passion would alienate people. I learned to worship the false god of compromise above all else. I took in their mediocrity and made it my own.

Yes, I burned with anger and sorrow after the Sandy Hook shooting. I marched and organized with Moms Demand Action. And then, when nothing happened—when we proved ourselves incapable of passing meaningful gun regulations after first-graders were massacred in their classrooms—I quietly, unwittingly surrendered to the belief that change was impossible. I gave up.

But Emma Gonzalez reminded me that I used to be better. That I once existed free from the fear of disapproval. That I know how to speak truth to power. She reminded me that a fierce warrior lives inside of me, too. I’ve said on social media that Emma Gonzalez is my hero. That is my truth. She brought me back to my highest self—the one that will not ever stand by again to witness the death of our children because our nation has been bought by the NRA.