amb’s question: What collars do you need to remove to have your agency? (“Octavia’s Parables, Parable of the Talents, Chapter 7”)

An answer could come from my journal entry last winter.
Dec 22, 2020.

In early June, after our first protest I had a catalyzing experience in downtown Amery on my way home. In the parking lot behind DQ sat the six young men and women who had rolled coal, swerved toward our picket line and yelled at us from their truck’s. The anger and outrage was screaming from their faces. Fed by the energy of the protest, I wanted to lean in conversation and find out why they were so angry with our anti-police brutality demonstration. But I should not have stopped to talk–especially with my kids buckled into their car seats.

Approximately 4 dozen people along with my family had shown up with protest signs near the Amery Free Press around lunch time in June, one week after the George Floyd murder. The mood felt like electric sadness and collective grief. Our protest was peaceful, even quiet. People posted up with a signs that read: “Stop Police Brutality” and “Black Lives Matter” and Justice for George Floyd.” Everyone was masked. I remember that people were timid and didn’t want to bother the Amery Free Press business. They did not want to give the impression that we were protesting the town’s newspaper. So the crowd moved a little ways down main street past the lumber yard and into the gravel parking area where the ATV trail crosses Keller Ave and where the railroad tracks used to be. Some children were there, mine were 4 and 1 years old; my younger one I wore in a backpack carrier. My kids came along on our journey this entire summer and I will never regret that choice. The presence of children, elderly and disabled people did make my husband and I very cautious about our safety in any protest setting.

The chief of police came to talk with us very shortly after our crowd gathered. He was kind and calm, He said that he supported us 1000%. We didn’t talk to him too much beyond that day but he or another officer did sometimes come to watch our subsequent three months of protests. Our group which was sometimes as large as that first 4 dozen people came out every Saturday at 10-1pm to protest and collect mutual aid donations. The police officers sat in their vehicles across main street near the area where the farmer’s market was happening. I want to believe that their presence deterred aggressive behavior from counter-protesters and maybe it did for some. We continued to be targeted by people in large trucks who would see our picket line then go somewhere (home?) remove, their license plates and attach large flags: Trump 2020, the thin blue line, or the serpent “don’t tread on me” to their truck beds. They would return to yell explitives, gun their engines at our protest line reaching high speeds and roll coal or swerve at the line of folks who now numbered enough to spread out along the street from the lumber yard to the fire station. I think on that first day, I saw one truck was pulled over by an officer. If a warning or a ticket was given I do not know.

Back to that first day behind the DQ when I stopped to talk to the angry young people. It was heated, was it a worthless exercise in outrage just like so many arguments that I saw or participated in on social media this year? We went were all set to go home, buckled in and their dad went back to his job separately from us. When I saw the group of counter-protestors near where I had parked, it seemed a good opportunity to have a conversation that would change hearts and minds. I thought that I could stay calm and ask them polite questions. And I did do that, initially. I remember asking “I saw that you guys were kinda ‘against’ the protest and wondered why?” One young man, (the leader?) swore at me immediately, yelling and asked “Why the — are you here?” “Don’t bring that — here.” “That — (Floyd) should have done what the cops asked.” He also added: “I’ve been arrested too. The cops beat me up.”

He was filled with anger and directing at me. His mood rabid and his face red. It occurred to me that I’m probably not much older than his mom. I was speaking politely to him and my young kids were there. Rationally, I should have left. The conversation was doomed. I did try to answer his questions though he cut me off repeatedly and derailed, he was way off the rails. We were not speaking the same conversation or hearing each other. I told him that I grew up in Amery and lived here now, I asked him if he understood what it meant when a police officer killed an unarmed person who is already cuffed, on the ground and not resisting arrest. He answered with another question “Why didn’t I protest when that (—) murdered a kid in the mall of America?” I didn’t know what he was referring to. I was getting upset and loosing my cool, probably started swearing back at him. I can’t remember what else was said but it was not much. He told me I was harassing him. I was about to leave but the six of them jumped out of their truck beds and into the cabs, gunned their engines and blew black smoke at me where I stood on the sidewalk. They drove off, newly outraged with our encounter. I got in my car happy that my kids were physically ok and that I was too. Emotionally, it is still unfolding. My 4 year old asked me “are those guys racists?” And she has asked me that every time we saw a Trump flag or an American flag this year.

George Floyd was murdered on May 25th and I’ve spent rest of this year trying to learn about racism in the US and what my part is in that system What could be my part in the movement for racial justice? I have questions too, just like the angry young man did (not his questions, my own.) Sometimes I’m angry about the tall stacks of injustice in our space. I’m sad when I can’t struggle through the toxicity of whiteness. I’m defensive when it is aimed towards me. I know more now about antiracism and it is an empowering tool. I know more about my own white identity, privilege, white supremacy and its goals. The harm that patriarchy and racial oppression cause will stay invisible unless I understand it, name it and build a community to hold us accountable. And I do deeply feel that the work of abolishing white supremacy is my work. I also think that work can only happen while I am humbling myself to it.

Grateful for a day where I can reflect and have courageous enough see truths as they emerge.
With love,

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