I would like to begin this article by acknowledging a small few, who in my observation, have shown a veritable conscience of compassion and love towards the human race, beyond the simple niceties and what others might expect of their character.
Alex, who wrote and gave a speech about how being rich is not limited to the amount of wealth one possesses, but the amount of love that one possesses.
Ben, who continually wades through the sea of facts time and time again to find the truth, especially those shrouded in controversy.
Mary, who went above and beyond the call of duty for an advocate of equality, and showed her peers what it means to be an ally.
And Ms. Warren, whom I found at the protest in front of the Police Headquarters, with her young daughter perched atop her shoulders, chanting “Black Lives Matter” with the rest of the crowd.
These people I cite as examples, because I feel that if I were ever in a sticky situation, where I felt that my life was at stake because of my race, I would want these people by my side. They understand, even from their own perspectives, what life is about, and contribute in their own way to the betterment of the human condition. Why, you may ask, do I acknowledge this? I consider it necessary to show that Latin, as a community, is capable of creating and affecting change, and these individuals lead it at the forefront. On Monday, November 25th, as I was boarding the North Avenue bus to go home, I was reminded of a pending protest that was to take place at 35th and Michigan in front of the Chicago Police Department Headquarters. It was meant to show disapproval of both the coming non-indictment of Darren Wilson and the violent history between the US government and minorities, specifically those of African descent. Moments away from missing the red line train that would take me there, I decided haphazardly to get on and attend, justifying it as a story to tell my children one day. I had forgotten my sweater at school, so I definitely wasn’t prepared, but there was some sort of intrinsic force that compelled me, and I complied with my heart.
I arrived at 35th street, immediately confused about which direction to head, so I asked the attending officer at the train station where the headquarters were, and he quickly pointed east. As I walked briskly down the street, I recognized a friend of mine whom I had seen at some shows around town and remembered that he was a friend of my drummer, Julian. I immediately flocked toward him, feeling elated as my loneliness was cured by his presence, and immediately began to converse, when his friend, Carlos, also greeted him and me. The three of us walked together to the protest, and once we arrived, there was a firm 130 people gathered around a shrine of a tree, decorated with coffins and ornamented with the names of those killed at the hands of police officers. There were people handing out hot coffee and other snacks to combat the cold. There were camera crews and people holding signs saying various phrases, such as the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and “RIP Mike Brown” and “Justice Is Dead”. It was sobering to see some of my most inner feelings expressed so briefly on limp cardboard. Soon enough, speakers began to present their inner feelings, pre-written poems and pieces of spoken word over an impromptu PA set that cut out frequently, which required the speakers to scream their pieces from time to time, only heightening the emotion. There were a few notable speakers, including some young men who had traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to speak to the UN about the injustices in America. They called special attention to Chicago, whose nickname is “The Murder Capital,” and how our farewell greetings are “Stay safe” instead of “See ya.” There was a female poet, whose intro required a trigger warning, who proceeded to describe the experience of the abuser in a relationship, and analogized it to the government’s perspective on its citizens. There was a rapper who spit a line, something along the lines of “We were born by the river with our heads underwater.” I remember being so profoundly shaken by his mastery of the English language. As it began to wind down, a piece of string with a coffin attached to it appeared in front of my face, and I was told to help hold it, and I noticed that there were other coffins next to it, and a speaker announced that there were 87 coffins on the string, one for each death this year. A four and a half minute moment of silence was asked to be held. I held the coffins up for the full moment, reflecting upon myself and finding my resolve to push through, despite the pain and the cold, reminding myself that the road to equality was never built to be comfortable.
Near the end of the protest, a middle-aged man came to speak about his experience in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and passed out pamphlets about the CPAC (Chicago Police Accountability Council), an in-the-works council designed to give civilian oversight to police trials and actions.
To end, an activist recited a quote from Assata Shakur:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
I realized we were all standing under an American flag. It waved in its red, white, and blue glory. I could feel its weight bearing down on me–its responsibility to me and to all the people next to me…
I attended a second protest on Friday, where I spoke more on my opinion, advocating for CPAC, diffusing tense situations between ignorant hecklers and the occasional pro-police protester, reminding them that the point of protest is to express disapproval of a social issue, not to express disapproval of disapproval. Double negatives should remain in middle school essays, not governmental issues.
I am not hopeless for America. Call it our trademark optimism, but I feel that someday, hopefully in my lifetime if we all work for it, America will be as equitable as possible. Everyone has an opinion about racial issues, especially in America, where racial issues are our never-ending struggle. Those who stand on both sides, progressive and nonprogressive, justify their respective sides simply on the pure hatred of the other, and this in itself is where most tension arises. Latin is not isolated from this, even though many would like to pretend that we are. Even now, I hear the constant push and pull between the representations of conservative views versus liberal views. Without trying, these people polarize themselves with hateful language and continue to dig each other into the proverbial hole. What I feel we lack is a certain respect, a compassion that would lead to everyone finding the common ground despite their ideological differences, which is the human experience itself, with all its personal complexity and eventual simplicity. Once this manifests itself in each person, even those who hate vehemently will be baffled by the force of “love”; only then does the demise all of the stereotypes, the microaggressional phrases, the prejudice, and the oppression itself begin to become a reality. Our capacity for empathy is the only chance humanity has.