(Editor’s Note: Viewpoint submissions on this and other topics are always welcome as part of our goal to encourage community discussion and exchange of perspectives.)
June 10, 2020 — I was at the protest in Salem on June 6. Though the media loves to focus on what gives them views and ratings — which isn’t peaceful protests — let me say the people showed up and came out for us.
Every age and every race.
I was overwhelmed and moved to tears with the feelings of love and solidarity. There was anger, but it was focused for change, not destruction.
The police were also there. They came in force — but they came in regular uniform.
No riot gear.
The Chief of Police of Salem spoke and began with an apology to us for the injustices of the system he is a part of. He said they were there to listen.
And to hear us. To be the catalyst of change.
The Sheriff of Marion County also spoke, telling us how, other than a few on-duty police, his people there were off the clock and on their own time to offer support. He also said words are just that: Words. They knew we are calling for action. So, as a gesture and a first step, they walked through the crowds and handed out water.
Water is life. We deserve to live.
Whether they meant it that way or not, the symbolism was not lost on me. Then they marched with us.
There were also members of the Indigenous community. They blessed the march, danced and offered up prayer songs.
State leadership was there as well.
They spoke. They marched. They promised real change and they challenged us to hold them to their word.
Don’t worry, I will.
In addition, the Sikhs came, set up tents and fed everyone. Prepackaged food and drinks were made free and available to everyone.
Did I mention there were 2,000-plus people there?
Preachers preached. Rasta’s sang. Organizers inspired. They called for unity; they called for peace.
A lot has been said about protesting during a pandemic; people did their best and kept social distance. It was difficult but people were aware, caring and kind. Most everyone wore masks and the event was organized with this in mind. In addition, free testing was offered for those that have been protesting. No other stipulations.
Truth be told, a revolution will not wait on a pandemic. We must be safe and healthy while we fight for what is right.
Two days later, on June 8, I participated in a protest in my home town of Florence — and that one meant a lot to me.
It’s painfully obvious that Florence has a very small percentage of people of color. Of that small percentage, an even smaller part is made up of black people, including myself.
So, as I have been seeing these protests happening here in my community, I can’t help but think that the people are out there for me.
My heart swells and I cry — good tears this time.
It would be easy for a town like Florence to be complacent or — worse — turn a blind eye, saying “This doesn’t affect us here.” But for every post I see or deafening sound of silence I “hear,” there are louder voices drowning out the fear and negativity with chants, cheers and the honking of horns.
I have been blessed to see and hear it.
Local high school students with their classmates took up the mantle to be the catalyst of change. They invited the community — and if they were going to show up and protest for me, I was going to show up for them.
I saw so many people, including many youth with their parents and siblings — and the dear man who sits week after week with his pink “racism is bad” sign who has been solid in his message for years. They dressed in all black, wore masks and wielded their signs.
I watched the lights turn green and heard car after car honk in support. I saw people raise their fists out their windows in solidarity with us.
It clearly will be a journey and a struggle just getting to the table to talk about the changes we are protesting for. But it brings me great comfort — not to mention pride — to see that, if it takes longer than I have, the next generation is already here to take over and demand the kind of society they want to live in.
Thank you Jacob, Hector and everyone for standing with me.
It was my honor to stand with you.