The Millions March LA this afternoon was everything I’ve been hoping to see for a long time and I almost didn’t go. Certainly I wanted to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, with the call for justice and an end to violence, but I hesitate when I don’t know who’s involved. On the invitation I didn’t see any of the usual names or any of the usual progressive organizations. That turned out to be perhaps the best part of the day.
After decades of protests starting in the Sixties, I have to say I’ve become sick and tired of showing up. (Except for the extraordinary outpouring in 2006 when half a million people marched peacefully for immigrant rights in downtown Los Angeles.) Usually? It’s the same (old) faces, the interminable speeches, the long adulatory introductions as though no one would actually bother to work for social justice without incessant ego-strokes, the tired and predictable rhetoric, the rival organizations with their varied but usual agendas.
Considering how I feel, I wonder what made me attend the pre-march conversation. I am still exhilarated. What I found at noon in the amphitheater at Pan Pacific Park was an entirely youth-led movement. “A social movement led by the young, guided by elders,” said one speaker. Of the 500 or so people assembled, the vast majority were under the age of 35. A significant number had never before been part of a protest.
There were to be no outside organizations leafletting or selling materials. The message was not to be muddied or diluted. Instead of rhetoric, political speech came in the form of spoken word and poetry, including a poem by a nine-year-old girl, with the repeated line We want equality. She got a standing ovation.
We practiced chants and were reminded all chants should be peaceful. If we were to hear anyone being aggressive, we should gently encourage them to chant one of our chants instead.
The organizers had the proper permits and had communicated the peaceful nature of the protest march to the LAPD. A small number of police officers on bicycle rode alongside the march. There was no sign of riot gear, not a hint of aggressive attitude.
I can’t say more without saluting those police officers who do their best to serve with fairness, honor, and compassion within a flawed criminal justice system they did not create. My belief is that change would benefit them as well as the community they serve. I’ve known some great cops and this is entirely sincere that I grieve with the NYPD and all who are horrified by the premeditated and coldblooded killing of Officers Ramos and Wenjian Liu by a deranged individual. I can only hope that the experience of grief, shared in common, will bring people together rather than cause more polarization. I believe we can’t find a way forward–an end to violence–alone.
At the park, we heard the day had three goals:
1. Raise awareness and issue a call to action so that here in LA we can join in solidarity with the Movement across the nation. The march was only Phase One. Organizing for effective action comes next.
2. Bring unity among people who’ve already been involved with people just getting involved in seeking change.
3. Promote healing, peace, and love in order to process pain and anger and turn it into effective action.
By the time the march began, the crowd had doubled in size and more people kept joining along the route.
How did the organizers do it? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. There was some outreach. A woman I walked with for a while was visiting LA from North Carolina and heard about the march that morning when she went to church. The word primarily reached the youthful Black community, but throughout the crowd were signs of solidarity.
So often, marches in LA on weekends take place in neighborhoods where everything is shut down and there’s no one to see the action. For a change, we had a route that passed through a park, past outdoor cafes and museums. How did the organizers get to be so smart? They did say their names, but I never quite got any of them. I am in awe of this Movement which is about justice, not personalities. WE, not I.
There was a moment when we stopped short. High above the street, a billboard for Selma.
Hands up! Don’t shoot! we chanted.
I did feel some regret that the written page with chants showed NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE transitioning to KNOW JUSTICE, KNOW PEACE. Of course said aloud, the message I wholeheartedly endorse is lost.
I used to imagine people marching in silence. Something very different from the usual bullhorns and shouting. Yes, we want to raise our voices and be heard. But I always thought if you could get a mob of people to stay silent, that would be an extraordinary show of discipline and power. That would send a message of serious, unwavering intent. I never thought I’d see it.
During the march, we stopped and observed 4-1/2 minutes of silence to mark the 4-1/2 hours that Michael Brown’s body was left in the street. At the end of the almost 3-hour march, we stood together, no chants, no shouts, no drums, no bullhorns, no words. We stood together sharing a powerful silence.
The Black youth of America have started something and with or without allies they will see it through.