Marching for Racial Justice

Editor’s Note: This post is the seventh in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.

A little over a week ago, I was trying to make what felt like a huge decision. Several friends had invited me to the #EnoughIsEnough rally in Boston Common. I had never attended a rally with so many people, all over the country, behind it, and I also wondered if my presence and voice would truly make any difference. I had several discussions throughout the day about the pros and cons of attending. Etta, a colleague of mine, encouraged me to go in order to support those who are suffering from the injustices of the failure of the grand juries to indict Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s killers. As she said in a recent blog post, “In fifty years, we will look back on this moment. What will we see? How will we answer our children and grandchildren who ask about what we did to build a better future for them? Our predecessors have shown us that there are many ways to respond to the call for justice that is now resoundingly clear.”
When I told my beau I was thinking of attending, his response was full of worry but also completely supportive. My mother’s main concern was that I be sure to not go alone, and stick with at least one friend. And with both of these important people, I explained that I understood their fears, but how privileged were we to have such a fear? The people who have been treated so unfairly and unjustly over the years do not have the luxury of being afraid at just one rally – that fear is there every time they make the choice to simply leave the house. So, after making a solid plan with a friend, I went home after work, put on comfy shoes and plenty of layers, and then headed over to the Common. I was immediately blown away by the crowd – there were certainly several thousand people in attendance. Every where I looked, I saw signs saying, “I CAN’T BREATHE,” “CHANGE THE SYSTEM,” HANDS UP, DON’T SHOOT,” and many more. People were chanting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” I was overwhelmed and inspired by the scene, taking pictures and joining in on the chants as I caught up to them. So far, the rally was what I had expected it to be: powerful, meaningful, and inspiring.
After maybe an hour on the Common, people began to take to the streets – literally. My friends and I marched with hundreds of others in the direction of South Station, blocking traffic and causing many people to stop and stare and hopefully learn. There were several moments when the crowd simply stopped in the middle of an intersection to sit and sing. I was slowly losing my voice from chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!” And with every shout, I was gaining so much respect for all those around me who were marching and disrupting for change.
Soon, we had marched past South Station and onto the highway. People later asked if I was scared or nervous to be walking on the highway. Honestly, at that point I was swept up in the cause and felt safe walking with the hundreds of people I was in solidarity with. It wasn’t until we were well onto the highway, and people suddenly started shouting, “White people to the front!” that it occurred to me that I was potentially in danger. Maybe 40-50 of us white people stood together, arms linked and blocking the other protesters behind us from the line of state police in front of us. I didn’t see what provoked it, but suddenly people were shouting, the cops were shoving us back with their nightsticks, and I felt more scared than I think I’ve ever been in my life. I wondered, was this tikkun olam, even though it scares me? Was this justice, when those who are supposed to protect us make us feel unsafe? Is this the right thing to be doing right now to make life better for more people? At the same time, how could I NOT attend the march? As a white woman as fully aware of her privilege as possible (though I’m certain I have more to learn), I recognize that while this fight isn’t about me, I can and should be there as a support to those fighting for equality and safety.
When I later saw media coverage of the crowds and the stopped traffic on the highway, I sincerely hoped we did the right thing. I’ve been raised to stand up for others facing injustice and it’s my instinct to keep myself and those around me safe; those goals conflicted in this case. More protests are happening everyday, all over the world, and I am very proud I could be there in what I think is going to be a pivotal moment in our history. So my question now is, what’s next? How do we encourage and influence more people, particularly those who make our laws and government policies, to believe our country needs to move forward on eliminating racism?

One thought on “Marching for Racial Justice

  1. As I read this article, I had so many conflicting feelings.
    First, I felt very proud of this young lady putting her own safety at risk for others.
    Second, I had a feeling of anger that people were yelling for white people to move to the front when it looked like police were bringing out their clubs.
    I felt, in some way, she was a guest to the protest and that her needs and safety as a guest were paramount. She should be protected at all costs.
    Then I thought, it is so horrible and indicative of the race issue that exists that everyone seemed in agreement that the police would be more hesitant beating up on a line of white people protesting as opposed to black people.
    And then I thought, she is not a guest. She is a protestor fully and equally. Of course, she or no one should be forced to go to the front against their will and that’s not what happened. But if she does go to the front, she does so as an equal, an American.
    I guess in the end, I am in awe of this young lady’s courage in the face of her own, justified fear and her commitment to justice for all. I am also amazed that her own question after such an ordeal is “what’s next.” Bravo!

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