Among all the quarantine activities in which I expected to participate during this coronavirus season, protesting amid large crowds was certainly not one of them.
And yet, 12 days after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis on May 25, my entire family, a few friends, and I found ourselves shouting loudly before our city hall amid a crowd of 1,500 others, chanting and waving our signs vigorously while cars honked their horns in passing.
Our protest, like many others held around our nation that same Saturday, included a schedule of speakers — U.S. Congressman Gil Cisneros, California Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, city council members, high school students, pastors, and community activists alternated at the microphone — and a moment of silence lasting eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
It is one thing to post profusely on social media, denouncing systemic racism and sharing the names and websites of organizations to which people can donate (all of which, of course, are effective means of spreading awareness and information). However, it is another to experience the exhilaration of standing, kneeling, and emphatic repeating of chants— “Say his name: George Floyd; say her name: Breonna Taylor” — over and over again, in sync with more than a thousand others. Such experiences ignite a flood of emotions difficult to verbalize.
My younger sister, who recently completed her freshman year of high school and had never participated in such protests in person (the TV is informative, but it’s not the same!), was awestruck by the sheer number of people banding together in solidarity. My dad, an immigrant from Taiwan who has not attended a demonstration since the Tiananmen square protests in 1989, described an odd yet moving sense of encouragement upon seeing such a diverse crowd gathered on the streets, all fighting for a common cause.
I, too, shed tears — not only due to the tragic deaths of so many innocent people and the centuries of racism and hatred embedded in our institutions, but also because participating in such an act of democracy alongside 1,500 others filled me with hope. Such thoughts transformed my sorrowful tears into joyous ones.
Indeed, protests after the death of George Floyd have continued for nearly two weeks at an incredible rate and impressive scale.
In the United States, activists have been leading protests in all 50 states, some smaller and more local like the one I attended in Fullerton, CA, and others much larger like the one that attracted over ten thousand people in Washington, D.C. What began as anger and frustration that triggered violence and looting has since evolved into an expansive and peaceful movement of solidarity that has drawn much more support from diverse communities than had the original Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013. (The Fullerton Police Department reported zero arrests and zero acts of vandalism from our Saturday demonstration.)
Surprisingly, protests have arisen in countries all around the world — across six continents — to express solidarity with anti-racism.
Celebrities have been utilizing their platforms to ensure messages of anti-racism can reach the entire spectrum of audiences. Many including Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, Emily Ratajkowski, Halsey, and Ariana Grande have actively joined protesters on the streets. Others such as Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres, The Weekend, Chrissy Teigen, and John Legend have donated to various organizations while encouraging their followers to do the same. Selena Gomez has taken a unique, creative approach by featuring various inspiring African American leaders on her Instagram each day.
Most remarkably, however, today’s Black Lives Matter movement has attracted attention and gained vocal support from leaders of both major parties, including Republican Mitt Romney of Utah and Democrat Kamala Harris of California. In an unusual yet not unprecedented move, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) also voiced support of a statement by Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who denounced Donald Trump’s use of military force to counter protesters. These unifying actions have once more reaffirmed that justice, the rejection of racism, and the promotion of positive change in America are not and should not be partisan issues.
Outside of politics and the news, I have personally witnessed a change among my friends who have previously shied away from such topics. Some have recognized a lack of awareness among themselves and began circulating political content for the first time, while others have taken incredible strides to publicly pledge greater sensitivity to the issue of race in today’s society. I myself have reevaluated the way I view my own presence on social media; we can use our platforms to highlight our fondest memories, but there is also no better tool for advocacy, especially at a time like today. We should be proud of the way young people have utilized online tools in order to stand up for what is morally right (of course, we young people also tend to exhibit short attention spans, so we should take steps to assure that these attitudes endure long into the future).
Therefore, although our country is battling multiple crises, I feel an uncanny yet empowering sense of hope. Not only have hashtags such as #blackouttuesday aggregated more than 28.9 million posts at the time of this writing, but people across all societies have also exhibited an enormous amount of unity virtually nonexistent in the last decade. Despite the differences in opinion regarding what our next steps may be —various states have already enacted plans ranging from dismantling police departments to removing Confederate-era statues and members of Congress have recently introduced police reform legislation — the protests across the country (and around the world!) have reaffirmed the existence of a problem, the first advance toward deriving a solution.
We have been a country divided for far too long. Yet, this movement and these protests, which aim to unify our country, are succeeding. Amid such demoralizing times (and whilst still in a global health crisis), it is easy to despair. It is easy to be angry. It is even easier to feel hopeless. However, by uniting in values, creating dialogues, and remembering that we as people are more similar than different, we can mend the cracks that have broken our society before such damage becomes permanent.