“GET UP, STAND UP: STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS!” The crowds cheered as we marched through Manhattan from 14th street to 42nd street Times Square with our hoodies on for Trayvon Martin. Beautiful lyrics by Bobby filled the streets and echoed throughout everyone’s ears but how many of us really participate in protests? Or is the mentality more like, “Leave it up to the activists, that’s what they signed up for right?”
There can be many reasons why some might not participate in a protest. I used to be the one that gave excuses not to go. I always thought protests were for the extremists who fought for non-imperative issues; that whatever their issue was it had nothing to do with me; or I am not in the mood to get arrested. My thought process was, admittedly, ignorant at its best. All reasons based in fear, but something I soon realized is that fear is the barrier of progression. Undoubtedly I wanted at least some of the things most protests fight for, but I wasn’t willing to put in the work to do so.
Last year–in the midst of Arab Spring–I thought to myself, “Now that is a protest.” I lacked faith in our system, but I knew if we could replicate that type of action here (without the anarchy), we could actually make a difference in our country. I knew it was only a matter of months before the movements springing up across the Middle East would inspire those in America. Then came the Occupy Wall Street movement and once again we woke up.
With a large portion of the country suffering from the down economy, a dissipating middle class, unequivocal economic system, and staggering unemployment, it was only a matter of time before people acted. And they did. Young people sprang into action joining Occupy movements coast to coast and reigniting the protest movements of the past.
Now, a more pressing matter exists. The life of Trayvon Martin, as horrible and unbelievable as it sounds, symbolizes the lack of progress we have experienced a country. As it was many years ago, young black males are viewed as suspicious criminals. On Tuesday, I went to the rally in New York City with my hoodie to support Trayvon’s family and find out if young people were truly committed to the cause, or just roaming around the street with skittles and ice tea.
I was extremely elated that thousands stood in solidarity with victims everywhere and showed so much support for the Martin Family.
In awe of the scene, I asked a few protestors why they were there and if they get involved with protests regularly.
One young man, Tarik Bell, said he joined the rally to let the world know injustice is not ok. “I feel like that issue is really pressing, and you know, I feel like as people we have an obligation to not only to ourselves but to Trayvon’s family to be out here to support them to let them know how we feel about these injustices, because we can’t allow this stuff to keep happening. They don’t look for your degree if I get pulled over; they don’t ask for my degree.”
Another protestor, Laura, added: “As in any protest just to be another warm body, another number and to represent the number of people dissatisfied with a state of whether it’s politics, racism, any inequality or injustice.”
When asked if she participates often, Sascha Murphy, a community organizer, feels protests are important: “Yea I do, I am actually a community organizer. I’m an activist and I thinks it’s very important to do [protest] and organize a community.”
I spoke to a father that was new to protests but felt compelled to bring his son.
“Well when I heard about what happened it just touched me on an emotional level because I have a 10 year old son. And for the first time I had to really explain to him that when he gets older he is going to be looked at by some with suspicion just because of the color of his skin,” Eric Hinton explained. “I hate that was something I had to explain to him because I want him to grow up ideally in a world where that won’t be the case. So as his father, it emits a moment to me where I had to teach my son so hopefully this won’t happen to him when he grows up and leaves home.”
Although some may question the effectiveness of protests, one thing is clear: We as a people can make a difference and every individual counts. We must believe that one day we will live in a system where a Trayvon Martin can walk in any neighborhood without ridicule and suspicion and be greeted with love and care.
In the words of Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, “ This is not a black and white thing. This is a right and wrong thing.”
And we must stand up for what is right!