My dad cried.
He told me he sat in the back of the rally – near the few people of color that live in my hometown community. And he cried.
He cried as a women told a story about moving to the community – this community that prides itself on welcoming people and encouraging people to join it – and she and her husband faced almost daily stops by police. Never a ticket or a charge. Always wanting to know what they were doing there. She told about how they decided maybe it was happening when he was behind the wheel, only to discover it wasn’t true. After months of this happening in the place they chose to move, they decided they needed to become part of the community. They didn’t do that through volunteering or joining a local organization; they did it by going to the police station and introducing themselves to the managing officer. They did it by proving to him that they were citizens in the community, that they paid taxes and held jobs, yet they were being treated like they were not welcome by this almost daily police stops. Their visit resulted in it stopping except for when she was speeding. Hearing her story – hearing that to become part of this community that they felt they had to go almost register with an authority – it made my dad cry.
He cried as another woman took the stage. She had three children who were black and had moved to the area after she had divorced. She talked about the daily issues her kids had on the bus. Kids calling them names, bullying them, and basically targeting them due to the fact they were black. A daily occurance for these kids and this mom hitting wall after wall in her attempts to get it to stop. My dad cried.
He didn’t recount any more stories as his voice shook, and I could hear he was on the verge of crying again. I told him his mom would be proud that he was out there. My grandma was legendary. She couldn’t drive herself anywhere, but she could drive home a point. When she discovered her father was a member of the local KKK, she confronted him about it especially since he was a sheriff for the local county. She was a teenager at the time. She married my grandpa, and my dad still recalls in detail the day she tossed out my grandpa’s dad. He had gone on a racist rant as they watched the Ed Sullivan Show, and she was not having it in her house in front of her kids. So she told him to shut up or leave. He left. My grandma would have been proud of him, and I wanted him to know that.
“I am not sure she would be….” he murmured.
He fell silent, and I could tell he was trying to gain back his composure. Our small home town, where he had returned after 10 years of being away, had held their version of a “black lives matter” protest. My dad joined them – walking with them from the park near his house to the police station and back.
Earlier in the day, my mom had posted photos of the town of 10,000 people boarding up the windows of many storefronts on main street which was the route of the protest. My high school friends who I am connected to on Facebook were posting things that they felt proved that busloads of antif were going to show up and destroy the town. One posted an ad that a friend of a friend of a friend had found proving it. “We need 1000 people who we will pay $125/hrs to join us in protest.” It was clearly something to rile people up and get them focused on fear of destruction and away from the issue.** And it worked.
My dad seeing that made him want to attend the march part of the protest even more. He had already planned on it especially now that we have family members who could be directly affected by all that is happening – my sister-in-law and her children – family members who have been affected & my dad was going to add his voice to theirs.
My dad reported people out there standing sentry and ready to “protect the town from those black lives matter people” – but not one person out there did anything more than march and hope their voice is heard. My dad told me about the many business owners – big leaders in the town – who stood out there making comments at the people passing who were wearing masks because of COVID risk – comments about how they were clearly trying to hide something. More than once, my dad stop, pulled down his mask, and ask if they would like his name to go with his face too because he had nothing to hide. He walked by a couple of guys in the bed of their pickup, AR-15s in hand, making threats to the crowd as they passed. From the way they were handling their weapons, my dad was afraid one small thing would set them to firing – even if it was not their intent – because of how stupid and careless they were being with their weapons. And several guys with their big trucks with the loud exhaust and flags in the back: USA, US Army, and Trump – would do loop upon loop on the street, slowing way down next to the protesters, then revving their engine to drown out protesters. Most were not from the town as their license plates indicated.
When they returned back to the park and the speakers took the stage telling story after story after story about their experiencing in the area – and that’s when my dad’s anger at the shit he saw during the march turned to sadness.
And he cried.
Before he passed me off to my mom, he made one last comment – “I have some work to do – I didn’t realize it until tonight, but I do.”
Sitting and listening to someone else’s personal experience – not second or third hand – but from them directly is a powerful thing. Listening to understand – versus listening to respond. Sitting with the discomfort that may come up instead of attempting to rationalize your position to yourself as a way of feeling less guilty – less sad – less uncomfortable – it’s not easy, but necessary.
“Emotion is the gateway to awakening” was a quote I heard in an interview yesterday. And I think my dad felt it.
**Some quick math: Portland’s protests take about 4 hrs, so if we use that as the number of hours these “protesters” are needed – that’s $500 per person times 1000 people = $500,000 being spent to drive a point home in a town of 10,000 people through vandalism and destruction? Yeah, no. Plus, I have seen a variation of this add pop up all over the more rural parts of the midwest confirming it is a scare tactic not a real thing.