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How Will You Show Up?

Posted by Annie Gonzalez Milliken // October 23rd 2014 // Social Justice, Stories and Voices // no comments

RESIST Mass Incarceration and Police Brutality This October

Holding the megaphone in my hand felt like standing at the top of a high dive.  It looks easy when someone else dives off, but once you’re up there, you wonder why you thought this was a good idea.
“Oh, I’m not sure I can do this.  I don’t know what to say.”
“Just say why you came here today.”

OK. Well the thing is, there were many reasons why I was out in the chilly, misty, windy weather with a rag tag band of revolutionary communists wearing orange jumpsuits, an assortment of Northeastern students, my housemate and my partner. There were many reasons I was handing out flyers about mass incarceration to passing commuters and trying to talk with them about resisting the violence woven into our criminal justice and policing systems.

the organizers of the October22 event at the Ruggles T stop

The organizers of the October22 event at the Ruggles T stop.

On a logistical level, I was there because I had googled “October 22 National Day of Action Boston” and found this gathering listed on the October 22 website. I had never personally participated in October 22 protests before, though they’ve been happening since 1996. I hadn’t even known about them before, but this year is different.

This year is different because of the uprising in Ferguson after Mike Brown’s murder. It is different because my Facebook newsfeed was full of passionate condemnations of racist police violence for weeks in support of the uprising. It is different because I was living in Oakland, CA, a city with plenty of experience with police violence, when the Ferguson uprising began. It is different because, despite having moved to Boston in September, I am still a member of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland a community with justice work at its religious core, located near Frank Ogawa plaza where protestors tend to gather.

Because of the social media outpouring, my location and my church I began to get involved in local protests against police brutality in Oakland during August and I began to learn more and care even more deeply about the ways that the people and laws and system meant to keep us safe from crime are killing people and destroying communities of color.

Yes, this year is different for me. And in devastating ways this year is different for Mike Brown, for Eric Garner, for John Crawford III. But it wasn’t different for Oscar Grants family, for Trayvon Martin’s family, for the families of so many murdered black and brown boys and man whose names I don’t even know. It wasn’t different for those who already knew how long this has been going on. I wonder if the activists who gathered in 1996 knew how necessary their day of protest would be 18 years later. It shouldn’t be necessary, today. We humans, we can be so much better than this.  I can be better than in passive complicity with an evil system.

members of First Unitarian Church of Oakland protesting on October 22

Members of First Unitarian Church of Oakland protesting on October 22.

And that’s why I was there. I was there for Mike Brown, for Oscar Grant, for everyone who lives in fear, every person who wonders if their son or brother or cousin or lover or friend is next. I was there because I’m heartbroken, outraged, frustrated and ashamed by the systemic racism that thrives in our country, infecting police officers who murder, infecting judges and juries who tear families apart, infecting legislators who rip away voting rights, infecting good citizens who do nothing. I was there because our UU faith tells me every single life is worthwhile Black lives matter!  I was there because our UU faith tells me we are all intimately connected to one another All lives matter!

But I was also there because I posted an essay by Kenny Wiley on my Facebook page this week and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, posting powerful words without accompanying action. His poignant essay, widely circulated by UUs ends with a call to action. “Unitarian Universalists,” he writes, “you are my people. And UUs, my ‘other’ people — of which some of you are — need you. We need you to show up. We need you to listen and go beyond platitudes. Not everyone can travel hundreds of miles, but we can all do something—something beyond what we thought we could do.”

Something beyond what we thought we could do.

Something like take a deep breath, press the red button and begin letting words flow into the plastic megaphone and out into the October air, asking the people stepping out of the bus with their umbrellas, trotting down the stairs with their earbuds to stop, to listen, to join in resisting.

Annie passing out flyers at Ruggles T stop

Annie passing out flyers at Ruggles T-stop.

So what about you? How will you show up?

Will you have a conversation that scares you with a family member, friend, colleague, neighbor on the topic of racist police violence? Will you vote for candidates who believe in changing our racist drug laws and stopping the school to prison pipeline? Will you rest when you need to and take care of others who are emotionally and physically drained from the struggle? Will you show up at an organizing meeting in your community? Hand out flyers?  Get on the megaphone? (If you happen to be in the Boston area will you help shut down Newbury Street with me on Saturday?)

Whoever you are, whatever your identities, political affiliations or generation, if you are a Unitarian Universalist or if you simply believe in love and justice, now is the time to show up for one another. Now is the time to do something – something beyond what we thought we could do. So many lives and all of our souls depend on it.

About the Author

Annie is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and currently serves our faith as the Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate for the Unitarian Universalist Association.
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