The United States of America

I don’t have anything to say that’ll make this horrific week make sense. I can’t tell you that riots are justified, or that riots are evil, or that the testimony is true, or that the testimony is false. I can’t tell you anything besides that a kid is dead.

I’m back in Oakland for Thanksgiving, which I’m spending with my family. On Monday and Tuesday nights, before I left, I went to the protests in New York; I marched with the protesters up Seventh Avenue to Times Square, and down Broadway to City Hall and the World Trade Center and, finally, to the highway that runs up along the west side of Manhattan.

Out of all of those, it was the march along the highway that struck me the most. People driving home, people trying to get places- I thought they’d be angry at us. They weren’t. The drivers were smiling; some of them honked along in rhythm to our chanting.

Show me what democracy looks like, someone shouted; this is what democracy looks like, we called back.

They weren’t all supportive. There was some angry honking, too; some people just sat in their cars, stone-faced, refusing to meet my gaze. Some were taxis, with tourists inside them. It was night, and the headlights ran all the way along the road, as far as you could see.

Show me what democracy looks like- this is what democracy looks like.

Walking down the middle of a highway is a jarring feeling. It goes against everything your parents drummed into you as a kid- look both ways before you cross the street, stay out of the way of the cars. They’re bigger than you. They can hurt you. If they hit you, it’ll be your own damn fault.

I was carrying a backpack, with all of my valuable possessions in it- my laptop, my textbooks, a present for a family member. I remember thinking that if I wasn’t in a crowd, I would be run over in a second, and I was suddenly and painfully thankful for the strangers surrounding me.

Show me what democracy looks like- this is what democracy looks like.

And then suddenly I wasn’t in a crowd; I’d split off somehow, was walking alone, just me and my backpack. I was in the space between two cars. The one just behind me was big- a truck. And I remember thinking: I don’t have the safety of a crowd, I’m alone. If that truck behind me decides to slam on the accelerator, he’ll be fine. He has plenty of room before he hits the other car; the only thing in between him and the taillights in front of him is me, and I’m small, and I can’t hurt him.

Show me what democracy looks like- this is what democracy looks like.

And he didn’t.

I don’t think it was because he agreed with the protests; he certainly wasn’t honking in support like some of the other cars. And it wasn’t because he wasn’t in a hurry- he was absolutely in a hurry, I could hear him revving his engine. I’m sure he was angry. I’m sure he found me inconvenient, even threatening. Maybe I was both of those things.

I think he just didn’t want to hurt me.

Show me what democracy looks like-

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