22 Nov Taking It To The Streets
First published in Your Weekend 19 November 2016
There is a t-shirt in one of my drawers which says simply, “I’m Against It”. I bought it during a particularly busy period – the invasion of Iraq, a cricket tour to Zimbabwe, and the imprisonment of Ahmed Zaoui for starters. For a while there, I could barely get it laundered between outings.
When I got the t-shirt, I remembered thinking I would have liked to have had it during the early weeks of Springbok tour protests in 1981 before we took to wearing body protection (I fashioned carpet tiles together with bailing twine). In recent years it stayed in the drawer because during the Marriage Equality campaign it would have put me on the wrong side.
If I was in America right now, that t-shirt would be getting another turn. Not, as some suggest, because protesters gathering daily on city streets are being paid to turn up (would that be a flat fee or by the hour, and do you get bonuses for placards and/or chanting?) but because the idea of peacefully walking the streets with strangers who share your ideas and anxieties is, quite simply, bloody lovely.
You wouldn’t find me damaging private property or throwing a punch, and I’m as nervous as the next person about any escalation to violence. But so far, the thousands protesting in America are exercising their 1st Amendment right without any recourse to the 2nd Amendment. The guy with the gun was a pro-Trump supporter in Portland.
Importantly, these protesters are not suggesting the ballot was rigged – they lost, and they know it. But majority rule doesn’t mean minority silence. It was swathes of people feeling they’d been made silent that got America to where it is right now. A long walk, some fresh air and real-world political engagement is possibly just what’s needed.
I appreciate those calling for a “wait and see” approach to Trump’s presidency. Perhaps building the wall is a metaphor rather than a construction project, and the mass deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants is another. But the rise in bullying and threatening of Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, Jews and gays, meanwhile, hasn’t waited till inauguration day.
One of the points of protesting is to temper what your government does next. Here’s another metaphor: If someone is coming for you, one of the things a potential victim is supposed to do (something she will be judged on later) is shout “no”. And sound like you mean it.
So it seems appropriate that many people in America, afraid of what is coming next, are shouting “no”. Or, as they’ve been chanting in cities throughout America in old-school call-and-response style: “Show me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like.”