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.

Take a Knee

I have strong feelings about taking a knee during the national anthem. As in, there is no way in hell I am going to be anywhere near the national anthem and NOT take a knee. Because systemic racism. Because the murder of black and brown people at the hands of police officers. Because white supremacy.

On Saturday morning, I got up before the sun to run a 5K. I made myself some coffee, real-quick-like washed Jane’s soccer uniform for her game that morning (planning ahead isn’t always my strong suit), and headed over to Avondale Estates to run. The 5K supported the elementary school of one of my very favorite kiddos, so I was extra excited to go and see his family and participate in the race.

I parked my car and headed to check in. Cheerful volunteers beckoned me over. There were no lines to contend with–which was both pretty unusual & pretty rad. Usually, on race day, the lines to pick up race numbers are LONG. But I quickly realized that this inaugural race would be an intimate affair. Cool. I love supporting fledgling efforts.

The weather was a bit chilly, so I was hanging around in the gymnasium instead of outside. And that’s when it happened. I finally focused on the singing that had previously been kind of melodic background noise. I realized that it was a choir. And that they were practicing the national anthem.

DAMN. They sure as hell were going to sing the national anthem before this 5K.

I have strong feelings about taking a knee during the national anthem. As in, there is no way in hell I am going to be anywhere near the national anthem and NOT take a knee. Because systemic racism. Because the murder of black and brown people at the hands of police officers. Because white supremacy. Because freedoms that should apply to all actually only apply to some. Right now, our country is wrong on so many levels. I see that. I feel it. And I have a responsibility to respond.

So, here I am, in a neighborhood that is not my own, faced with the necessity of taking a knee during the national anthem. Did I mention this was a really small crowd? It wasn’t like no one would notice. Oh, they’d notice all right. And as strongly as I feel about taking a knee–well, folks feel just as strongly on the other side. Sometimes their feelings involve death threats. So, yeah, I was a little nervous about this whole situation.

But the first bars of the national anthem rang out, and I put my knee on that asphalt. It hurt like hell. And I was shaking like a leaf. As I knelt there with my head down, tears stung my eyes as I thought about all the professional athletes who have taken a knee, the performers, the high school kids… Because that shit is BRAVE. When you’ve got an audience that matters to you–whether its millions of football fans or hundreds of folks gathered for a high school sporting event–it is wrenchingly frightening to take an unpopular stand. There is peril in telling the vocal majority that they are wrong. But they are. They are wrong. And the people who stand up in big and small ways–who call out systemic racism, who reject white supremacy, who really believe that we are not truly free until ALL OF US are free–they deserve our commendation and our respect. Kneeling there, marveling at how long the national anthem is (it’s real, real long), I prayed for every person who’d been brave enough to take a knee. I prayed for their safety, their strength, and their continued conviction.

At the end of the national anthem, some woman behind me said “Amen” (that’s a problem for another day, this God & country business), I got up and ran my race. People probably felt irked by me. Or made assumptions about my “white guilt” (of which I have none, by the way. Guilt is useless. Action trumps guilt every time). Or maybe they didn’t notice me at all–people, including myself, can be way too ego-centric, always assuming folks are talking about, looking at, or focusing on them. So maybe no one even noticed.

But I noticed. And every step I take to disentangle myself from white supremacy, to stamp out the racism that I’ve been exposed to all my life (as we all have), to create something different for my daughter’s future–that is important. Ending racism will happen in momentous moments and in seemingly inconsequential ones. But, as a white woman, I know I have to take steps every day to reject racism. My liberation is tied up in this, too.

Hard Truths

Through quick glances in my rearview mirror, I watched my sweet 6-year-old sob on the way home from the grocery store yesterday. I wish it was because I wouldn’t buy her something in the checkout line. Or because she’d gotten in trouble AGAIN for her reckless driving of the shopping cart. But it was much more complicated–and painful–than that.

Through quick glances in my rearview mirror, I watched my sweet 6-year-old sob on the way home from the grocery store yesterday. I wish it was because I wouldn’t buy her something in the checkout line. Or because she’d gotten in trouble AGAIN for her reckless driving of the shopping cart. But it was much more complicated–and painful–than that.

She was crying because she’d just come to the difficult (and necessary) understanding that some folks are not going to like her because she’s white. My outgoing, loves-everybody child found this particular truth heartbreaking.

Here’s what happened:

Jane and one of her closest school friends were in the back seat of the car. Sometimes I pick this friend up from school, if her mom needs a quick childcare fill-in. Neither girl had known they’d be hanging out together that afternoon, so they were super excitable. Chattering, squealing, giggling, saying bootie and chicken nugget constantly–the usual. Once her friend realized that she probably wasn’t going to get a full-length playdate at our house, she asked if I could drop her off at another friend’s house instead of taking her home. (Uh… NO. But good try) Jane protested that she wanted to hang out, too. Her friend responded, “You could come too! Oh… no. No. You couldn’t. She (this other friend) wouldn’t like that. She doesn’t like white people.”

To her credit, in the moment Jane kind of just skipped right over what her friend had said. They carried on. More BOOTIE! More CHICKEN NUGGET! And so much running around the store. They drove me crazy–and had a blast. They hugged each other goodbye  one MILLION seven hundred and forty-seven times.

Then her friend was gone, and I got to have the tough conversation in the car. The one that made her cry.

I get it. I like to be liked. And, even though I have a much broader perspective of systemic racism and white supremacy than my six-year-old, it still stings when a person doesn’t give me the benefit of the doubt because I am white. But then I pull myself together, recognize my own privilege and acknowledge that, by and large, white folks have done very little to facilitate positive, interpersonal relationships with black folks. In fact, we’ve spent a lot of time doing precisely the opposite.

And that’s where I started my conversation with Jane.

This past weekend, Jane interrupted me in the second to last chapter of The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. She started talking to me as if nothing were going on, while I was mired in the child narrator’s perspective on the Birmingham church bombing–the one where four black little girls were slaughtered at the hands of white men. Once I finished the book, I had to explain why I was so upset when she interrupted my reading. I reminded her what she’d learned about the civil rights movement. How separate was not, in fact, equal. And how people fought so hard for the very basic civil rights that she and I enjoy every day. Then, I told her about the kind of hate that would drive grown white men to bomb a church and kill little girls. Just because they were black.

Fast forward a few days…as Jane sat crying in the backseat yesterday, I reminded her about the church bombing in 1963. That MLK got shot for leading black folks toward liberation (or civil rights, at least). That her black friends will not always get the same benefit of the doubt that she does, simply because of the color of her skin. And I reminded her that we still have to say that Black Lives Matter, because to so many, they don’t.

These are hard truths. These are truths her black friends are never spared.

Jane is a warrior for what’s right. It’s just in her nature. She believes passionately in fairness and equality. To her, someone not liking her because she’s white is the epitome of unfairness.

But when I reminded her of the unfairnesses–in education, employment, housing, incarceration, etc, etc, etc–that black and brown folks endure every single day as white folks keep institutional and systemic racism firmly in place, well… she found a little bit of perspective on the unfairness of some kid not liking her because she’s white.

And, just for good measure, I begged her to never say “not all white people…” because FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. NO.

Instead of worrying about what one little girl she doesn’t even know thinks about her, we agreed that maybe she could focus on all the lovely friends she does have. And that she could do her part to try to make the world more fair for everyone. And that, regardless of what comes her way, she would always, always be a warrior for what is right.