We had just turned right onto Jackson St. during last Sunday’s march when the pick-up truck slowed down so the guy could yell at us. “I thought we were supposed to be social distancing!” he mocked, then sped off.¹
I knew what I wanted to say, but as anyone who’s been out in the past month can tell you, it’s hard to shout when you’re wearing a mask. It’s hard to even communicate the simplest idea.
So I’ll post my response here, because I’m sure pick-up truck guy follows my writing closely, and has been checking back daily to get an answer to his question.
Civic protest falls under the category of essential work.
That’s all. In my house, when we want to go somewhere or do something besides getting groceries, or driving around aimlessly for a little bit, we ask ourselves, Is what I’m about to do essential? Usually, the answer is no. Going to the thrift store isn’t essential. Going to Wal-Mart isn’t essential. Going shopping for anything isn’t essential, not really. And so we end up not going.
But I went to last Sunday’s protest here in Athens, and I went to the protest this past Saturday too. I haven’t stayed to the end. I’m getting older² (or maybe just old?), and my body doesn’t heal as fast as it used to–I pulled something in my shoulder shooting three-pointers back in February, and haven’t been able to lift my left arm above my head without intense shooting pains since.
I didn’t start this blog series to write about politics. I started it to write about the Coronavirus. I did a series of political stuff in 2017 that holds up pretty well, and you can read them here if you’re interested. And while I have some serious definite feelings about the police, I’m going to limit myself here to only talking about the wave of protests through the lens of the pandemic.
Though given the way our government responded to the pandemic, with its typical brand of inept cruelty for the poor and efficient embezzlement for the rich, it was only a matter of time before the line got blurred between the USA’s medical virus and its various political viruses.
The first protest I went to did a poor job of social distancing. A march was scheduled, and we were encouraged to walk through the street the police had blocked off for us–whose streets? our streets! But when we turned onto the main road we had to all get back on the sidewalk–whose streets? their streets! This created a human traffic jam as we all had to squeeze through this sudden bottleneck. As we crammed together onto the narrow sidewalk, it became impossible to maintain six feet of distance until we reached the end of the block and turned onto the street that had been closed off for the protest.
The speakers had to use a megaphone because there wasn’t a PA, which meant you had to squeeze in close if you wanted to hear what was being said. I’ve been going to protests since the aftermath of 9/11, so I had a pretty good idea of what was going to be said. I hung toward the back of the crowd, there to be a body adding to the numbers–2,000-ish people showed up in a our town of 100,000-plus–and once the event was over, I headed home. Lots of people stayed. They eventually got tear-gassed by our shithead police and arrested. The police chief released a public statement justifying their use of violence that was almost hilariously untrue. A virtual townhall was held, and lots of people yelled at the mayor and the police chief, though no one reached the level of sublime vulgar poetry of whoever it was in Los Angeles that shouted:
Suck my dick and choke on it
I yield my time
The second protest, two days ago, was more corona-conscious. No marching. Circles drawn on the pavement in sidewalk chalk six feet apart. Our police were even able to restrain themselves from using tear gas as the night went on, despite the presence of shitloads of National Guardsmen decked out in full-on war costumes, and the presence of our disphit governor, and what you would get if a Krispy Kreme donut could fuck a jar of mayonnaise, Brian Kemp.
The organizer of the first protest tested positive for Coronavirus a couple of days before the second protest happened. Some people took great delight in this, and rushed to their computers to let people know how delighted they were–mark my words, in 100 years, we’ll just spell they’re as their and vice-versa because it will be easier for the majority of people to understand us. And while I take no delight in anyone contracting Coronavirus who isn’t our President, his staff, or our governor–the people whose refusal to take this disease seriously is causing people to die–I wouldn’t feel bad at all if I contracted the virus because I attended one of these protests. I wouldn’t feel stupid, or guilty, or even think I had made a mistake.
Because fighting for justice is essential work, even during a pandemic. And especially during this pandemic.
I would feel stupid/guilty/etc. if I had contracted the virus because I wanted to go thrift-store shopping, or I had gone to a bar, or a restaurant. Because those things are inessential. Getting a haircut is inessential. Men’s hair is too short in this country anyway. Every male under the age of 12 looks like they’re in the military, and all the adult males–here in Georgia at least–look like they’re cosplaying at being the general manager of a Chick-Fil-A. I say let that hair grow.
But this country has been a blood-soaked den of injustice for (check notes)–since its inception, and protest is the only thing that’s going to change it. And it’s working. Hell, burning down a Minneapolis police station polls higher right now with the US public than Trump or Biden.
The truth is, this country has been making people sick for a long time. And every time you turn on the TV, or open a newspaper, you’re breathing in a virus of bullshit and white supremacist propaganda. It’s better to get sick because you’re trying to change society for the better than continue living in the sickness of US society as it is presently construed. I don’t think anyone out there plans on giving up. Because I think that everyone out there understands, on some level, that if we don’t continue to scream for justice, we will one day find ourselves screaming for air.
¹Note: in my personal history of people-in-vehicles-slowing-down-to-shout-at-me, this was definitely better than getting slurpees thrown at me while walking home from high school, or people shouting, “Buy a car, faggot!” when I would be out walking in El Cajon, California. Though for the sake of balance, there was the time I was 14 years old and walking to my orthodontist when a carload of older high school girls pulled up to ask me for directions. When I walked over, one of the girls flashed her boobs at me, and they drove off laughing. This confused me for a couple of years. Was I supposed to do something? How should I handle this the next time it happens so I get to ride off with these fun-loving older girls who are so free and uninhibited? Of course it never did happen again, and I eventually realized that they were just fucking around with some young, gangly zit-faced freshman. Still, it did give me a lot to think about.
² Stevie Nicks is getting older too. According to Stevie, even children get older. That is true, but it is definitely not true, as Stevie has also claimed, that thunder only happens when it’s raining. That may be the most blatantly untrue lyric in any song ever written, though I’d love to hear other examples in the comments.