Yesterday, on Martin Luther King Junior Day, a national holiday, Black Lives Matter protesters briefly shut down the San Francisco Bay Bridge in one direction. I smiled at that. A traffic snarl on a holiday commemorating a great activist caused by today’s ambitious activists: what is not to love?
But today on the drive in they were discussing it on Forum and people kept calling in to complain about how yeah sure they support black people and they think it is okay to protest but not, heck forbid, if it is disruptive. “Who do these people think they are? They’re not going to win me over with tactics like that!”
Dan Brekke, also of KQED, posted a piece with some historical perspective, and recounted how his Uncle Bill Hogan, once a Catholic Priest, had participated in a very similar protest in Chicago, blocking a highway into the city, on a Tuesday, May 9, 1972. He remarked that the Vietnam War ultimately ended, but that the protest in question was only one of very very many.
I got to thinking of the first time I ever engaged in a protest. Just a few days over twenty five years ago, on January 16, 1991. To quote an article by Charles Leroux in The Chicago Tribune:
“Cara Brigandi, 16, a junior at Lincoln Park High School, said she led a movement of Lincoln Park students to walk out of school and protest. Organizers gave students their marching orders when they came to school Tuesday morning. Fliers were passed out urging students to leave classes about 10 a.m. That effort mushroomed into a march down North Avenue to Lake Shore Drive and then to the Loop. Along the way, Lincoln Park students say they picked up students from the Latin School of Chicago, and William Jones Metropolitan High School. By about 12:30, approximately 200 students were in front of City Hall.”
I remember getting the flyer at the school door. I remember that moment when the time came and every student had to ask themselves whether they were going to stick with class or step outside. I remember looking out the window to see a growing crowd inviting us to join them and then the moment I decided to join other teenage kids running down the stairs to break a first taboo. After some cheering and whatnot, the crowd headed down the street. The cops managed to break the crowd in two, with the folks in the back returning to school. Those of us toward the front were soon walking through a Chicago winter day down a highway on-ramp and on to Lake Shore Drive: two lanes of students, one more lane of police cars, buffering us, and another lane of mid-morning traffic squeezing by, many cheering us on.
“Hell no, we won’t go,” the protesters chanted. And: “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your (bleeping) war. Five, six, seven, eight, we will not cooperate.” Among the crowd were many non-students who had protested the Vietnam War. With that war, “it took years before there was this kind of protest,” said Lester McNeely, 37, of Oak Park, a member of the West Side Peace Coalition.
The next day, we started to bomb Iraq.
Back to the present day … Dan Brekke suggests that one objective of protest is to get people arguing, and a comment on the Forum discussion cites Dr King himself:
I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
I’ve come a long way from being a chanting high school kid walking down LSD … I own a house in the suburbs!? I guess I’m in a place where I can suggest to others of my social class that there is a time for order, but there is also a time for action, however messy, disorganized, inchoate, and perhaps even self-defeating.
If it is Martin Luther King Day, and your trip across the Bay Bridge from the Chocolate City of Oakland into the Liberal Mecca of San Francisco gets delayed by people who are angry about cops murdering black kids, well, I would suggest that whether you agree with the protest or not, this is a perfect time to roll down the window, raise your fist in the air, and express your opinion.