I did go to the demonstration, the Black Lives Matter Houston march from Discovery Green to City Hall back on 29 May. They didn't have a PA, so the speakers took turns with the one bullhorn, and the crowd couldn't safely cluster together by the Hermann Plaza steps close enough to hear the speeches. So I spent an hour or so out on the periphery by McKinney Avenue, chatting with newly minted attorney Remington Alessi. I also witnessed two groups marching in the streets, apparently without permits because the cops looked to be following them rather than escorting them. Good.
The challenge is not-so-simply this: Millions of people in Left America are talking and tweeting about George Floyd the continuing use of lethal force against People of Color by US police and self-appointed neighborhood watchpersons, and that they're mostly saying a lot of the same things about the need for wholesale systemic change in law enforcement. I absolutely agree with their prescriptions for change, and for the first time in a while I feel optimistic that this change is coming. Popular protests in dozens of US cities have started the conversation, and that conversation has reached some media outlets that reach millions. What could I possibly add to it?
Springsteen closed his program by saying that we have a choice between chaos and community. Which will we as a society choose? Does our system have the flexibility to make the changes required to make community happen? This is not a question he arrived at just last week. Issues of race and class (well, mostly class) have been on his mind and in his songs since the 1970s.
(EDIT: The first song that I heard when I switched over to E Street Radio was The Boss's own "American Skin (41 Shots)," which he recorded more than two decades ago. Powerful stuff. Springsteen then observed that the song lasts about eight minutes, about the length of time now ex-Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck. Good as the song is, it's about four minutes too long, but Springsteen felt the need to repeat the title about 100 times because sometimes that's necessary to get the message across to some people.)
(Side note: I've always thought it odd that so many Republican-voting frat rats were so into The Boss, perhaps ignoring all the Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie flavors in his lyrics because his music just bursts forth with sweaty masculine energy.)
After ruminating on all the discussions I've heard in the past week-plus, I have finally developed a proper take on the issue. Unfortunately, it's in the form of a question: When will we know that we have achieved true racial, social, and economic justice?
It's easy for a progressive activist to put on your MLK hat and start dreaming out loud about what your ideal society looks like, and then draft some strategies on how we can move toward it. It's hard to reckon with the fact that perfect societies have never existed, but it's important to recognize what we gain just by trying. It's analogous to the Green Party's contesting of elections, including the Big Prize: Even if you think you can win, the main point isn't winning so much as pushing society forward by articulating progressive ideas in a public forum.
I arrived at this question by putting myself in the shoes of somebody who doesn't get it, or at least acts as if they don't get it. That's the person in Socratic-irony italics below.
What are you protesting for or against?
Another unarmed black man was killed by police. We're tired of this shit, and it has to stop.
What do you want?
Well, we can start with the arrest of the cops involved.
OK, the cop who knelt on George Floyd's neck for eight-plus minutes has now been arrested and charged with murder (third degree). Are you satisfied with that?
Hell no. The cops who allowed it to happen are still at large.
OK, the other cops who stood by and watched the murder happen while George Floyd pleaded for his life have now been arrested and charged. Happy?
Surely you jest. This is just the beginning. We'd like to see them tried and convicted, because too many murderous cops have had their charges dropped by prosecutors who are in bed with police departments.
So when these cops are convicted, you'll be able to stop protesting, right?
Wrong. There are still thousands of cops running loose in our streets who will happily kill a person of color and claim, "I feared for my life, and besides, the dude somehow got hold of my taser." And not all of these cops are even of strictly European descent.
So when cops finally know that they will face prison time if they're caught on video shooting or otherwise killing unarmed persons of color...problem solved, right?
Again, no. There is still a culture of racism that pervades policing in this nation. That has to be rooted out so that we don't create more trigger-happy cops. It's evident in the way cops respond to armed and angry white folks protesting against wearing face masks during a pandemic, versus the way they handle mass protests led by black folks. And it dates back to modern policing's origin in 19th century slave patrols.
You can extrapolate from there. Eventually, Mr. or Ms. or Mx. Italics, after exploring how racism also pervades society more broadly and we need to find ways to evolve beyond our implicit biases, will throw in the towel and ask...When? When can we be satisfied that we have achieved true justice? And by when, I don't mean what year; I mean under what circumstances. How will we know that we have achieved it?
We Progressives and Radical Lefties have our visions of what the Beloved Community looks like, but those visions are not identical even from one lefty to the next. Beyond that, our visions may change and grow year upon year, just as the Green Party's Platform occasionally has to be updated to reflect changes in the real world.
We get together as political parties or advocacy groups to determine where we do agree; we do this by posing and answering some basic questions that are kind of like planning for a non-permitted protest march:
- What is our destination?
- What route will we take to get there?
- What alternate routes can we use if that route is blocked?
- What will we do when we get there?
- And, just as importantly, what will we not do when we get there?
I invite your thoroughly-thought-through answers to those questions.