This last March, I was walking home from the free pool in my neighborhood (did you know Chicago has free pools all over the city? If you're broke and disabled, even if you aren't either of those, get after it! The city actually maintains them very well) and saw a sign on a light pole that was the sign I had been looking for since the election. I knew I wanted to get involved with supporting Black Lives Matter somehow, but wasn't sure what to do. There is a systemic builtin disconnect in our country that both black and white peoples face here in America, and the disconnect keeps us divided. It makes it easy to stay out of fighting for social justice issues, and it left me feeling helpless for a while about where to begin (I now know I was never helpless). I picture it like two people, one black, one white, starting at the beginning of a maze (the American Experience), but one ends the maze beat up, bloody, exhausted, and the other has a Latte in hand and almost missed the start of the movie they were heading to. Can you tell which is which in my scenario? (for the record, I drink Lattes and see movies, I know people of color do as well, but I'm illustrating a point here). Because of this disconnect, I had no idea where or how to begin, but I knew I wanted to get involved, and this sign was a chance. It was a poster for a meeting planning a strike action for May Day. The groups associated were BLM Chicago, the Pilsen Alliance, the Socialist Alternative, and the Democratic Socialists of America, to name a few. What I didn't know going in was that this march happens every year. It is, in fact, an international day of strike actions so that the workers of this country and other countries, who so often have little chance to fight back against these mega corporations that pay workers starvation wages, can make their voices heard. I didn't know that going in, I just decided to show up, white and angry and loud, because that's how I had been feeling since the year before when I started to see some shit about this country that I couldn't and, honestly didn't, want to unsee.
So I go to the meeting. I had never done anything like it, and for a long time, I let my pain dictate my life. For better or worse, I stopped doing that this spring and a huge part of that was owed to this meeting. The meeting started with a panel of local activists from each group discussing why and how we need to fight back. I listened and I heard. I really heard everything. The meeting took place at a library in Pilsen, a Chicago neighborhood that is currently being gentrified pretty hard. They've lost 10,000 local families from the area in the last few years due to the sky rocketing of rental prices, and the alderman continues to sell off properties one after another to developers. I imagined what it would feel like to walk out of the library and instead of taking a bus to my hood (aka Rahm's hood), walking home to an apartment around the corner that I soon couldn't afford. I walk myself through these scenarios because that is how empathy works. If you don't use your empathy much, this is a great way to practice it, because it's like a muscle and needs to be used and worked out every day in order to stay in peak condition. It's a lot like playing pretend as a kid or doing improv. It's about allowing the scenario to play out without judgment in the moment, so that you can follow the trajectory of the situation as it would play out in real life for the other person you are imagining to be. Thats how the reality of the situation you are imagining can become clearer. Because unless you experience this stuff first hand, you most likely won't ever play a scenario like this out in your head, because scenarios like these are pretty tough to imagine, let alone live out every day.
After the panel discussion, we broke out in groups to brainstorm action ideas for the big march. The plan was to march from Pilsen to Union Park, and there we'd join up with at least 100 other groups for a big march downtown. The discussion took some turns at times, and it naturally flowed into people revealing some pretty big and very real fears they were dealing with about the realities they face in Chicago every day. I listened, I participated, I was welcomed without judgement. It was in that moment that I realized this is so much bigger than me or Chicago or this country I've called home my whole life. This wasn't about me getting involved, it never would be about me. This was about elevating a voice not my own, so that suffering and pain didn't dictate the reality of this country anymore, because that's how it currently operates. I left the meeting with some tasks to tackle and feeling empowered as fuck.
I spent the next month tabling and flyering with some of the people from the Socialist Alternative. They were all very kind people. They answered my questions, they listened to me talk about my own fears, they helped me wade into a pool that, from the outside, seemed to be littered with razors and knives and ropes and guns and hate and anger. I now know that this pool is in fact not just filled with these things, it's constructed from these things. It's how the pool was made. That's what participating in this strike action taught me: the problem isn't just a bunch of racist people, the problem is that the entire country is built on white supremecy, and people keep ignoring this fact. People have accepted these injustices as normal. It was not an easy realization to have as a white person who hasn't helped out in this type of way before, but again, it's not about me, it's about a much bigger picture. And I realized I was finally doing something, and that made everything a tad less terrifying to face.
The march itself was beautiful. After learning all that I had, I was then handed a gift of watching these activists in action. We marched 20 blocks up Ashland to Union Park. I watched the police push some very petite women around and I walked over to block them. I then watched the same police officer relax for a minute after that and not only back off, but he then watched as they carried out an paper machet pipeline monster with the heads of Rahm Emmanuel, Trump, Hillary Clinton, Benajim Netanyahu was slayed it to the theme of Star Wars, and I watched the police officer genuinely enjoy the show. We marched to Union Park and then I had to leave (I've realized that at these marches I've gone to, I'm feeling everything from everyone. I'm taking it in and I'm doing so with all of my being, so I can only do until I can), as the rest of the crowd marched onward to downtown in the thousands. It was pretty beautiful. This march taught me a big lesson, and these activists taught me an even bigger lesson. They welcomed me instantly to their cause, they showed me what organizing looks like in a realistic way, they showed me what a peaceful protest looks like, and they survive fighting every day because they keep each other going. During that march up Ashland, I watched humans scream their existence to a city that tears them down, yet it's a city they love, a city they call home. It was remarkable and empowering and, for me, completely life altering. And I haven't looked back since.