Why I marched in protest

Protesting+down+Wabash++Avenue+on+May+30th+for+the+Blacks+Lives+Matter+movement+in+Chicago.+Photo+by+Micaela+Gaffo.

Protesting down Wabash Avenue on May 30th for the Blacks Lives Matter movement in Chicago. Photo by Micaela Gaffo.

It has never been a question to me whether or not I should stand up for those around me. It just comes naturally. I have always considered myself an advocate for those who need it most.

 

When the recent murder of George Floyd came at the hands of the police, it was the tipping point for America and the wake up call for me. I could no longer just talk about the injustices many Americans face, specifically African Americans. Now it is  time to actually advocate. 

 

So I took to the streets of Chicago and joined the thousands of  others demanding justice, in my first ever protest.

 

I was excited. I was nervous. But most importantly, I was ready to join the millions of voices waiting to finally be heard. 

 

Not everyone in my life agreed with me, though, even those in my family. They argued about “my safety” trying to prevent me from going to the protests. They said a lot of things tailored to their comfort, but it didn’t change the reasoning as to why I was going. This is not a debatable issue to me and never will be. 

 

I will never understand how people can argue against this movement. There is nothing to argue! You either believe in equality and justice–or you don’t. 

 

Social media is always buzzing about current events, but this was different. It was something my friend’s and I  have never experienced before. There was a lot I didn’t know about protesting. But I watched millions of people from all backgrounds take action immediately following Floyd’s death. Nearly everyone was demanding change in different ways that included signing petitions, making donations and/or protesting.

 

The first thing I learned about protesting, is that in 2020 protesting is a new kind of  beast my generation must tackle. There are new tactics the government uses to discourage and prevent people from protesting, including tracking and surveillance through our cell phones. 

 

What has sparked in recent years of protesting is the authorization of the police to surveil protesters to “enforce any federal crime committed.” The point in them doing this is to control the public with fear: “we’ll catch you if you participate, and then potentially charge you with a crime.” With lots of the protests turning into violent riots, I just didn’t know what to believe, and honestly, the info out there did manage to scare me just a bit. 

 

But, protesters are just as savvy. We would not allow another obstacle in our path and let it steer us from our purpose of protesting.

 

Word on the street advised us to conceal our identities as much as possible and make sure our phones are untraceable going into a protest. This includes turning off cellular data, bluetooth, location services, and face recognition. 

 

We even refrain from capturing pictures at protests in fear the police will hack into our iCloud and see the time and place our photos were taken to associate us with the protests, whether they were violent or not.

 

It doesn’t matter if we protest peacefully, the police do not care and will find any excuse to shut down these protests and make us pay for protesting against them.

 

I was prepared for this peaceful protest to turn into something else; triggered and manipulated  by more violence from the police similar to events taken place in Minneapolis where Floyd was murdered.  I was willing to accept this though, because I knew I was a part of the solution, not the problem.

 

Once I got to the city, I took the red line to the downtown area and the moment I emerged from the CTA tunnel underground I was met with many protestors already in action. N.W.A was blasting on a nearby speaker and helicopters swarmed above us.

 

“No justice, no peace! No racist ass police!”  I joined the passionate chanting. 

 

The Chicago Police Department (CPD), had lined their bikes side by side blocking off whole streets to separate protestors. Many did not understand why they were blocking us off from one another, and I didn’t understand either. We were being peaceful! No one was “acting out” or misbehaving. 

 

We proceeded down Dearborn Street and met up with more protestors on the next block. And we kept marching until the police blocked us off somewhere else.

 

It was when we reached Lake Shore Drive that I knew just how powerful and important this protest was. We, the protesters, had managed to shut down Lake Shore Drive. We, in solidarity, stopped traffic and shooed police cars in the opposite direction to march down Lake Shore Drive. 

 

It was insanely empowering and a rewarding feeling. It showed me, personally, that we are stronger together. We kept marching and yelling in our loudest voices. 

 

“Hands up! Don’t shoot,” we chanted in harmony. 

 

It wasn’t until we reached Trump Tower that things “shifted.” The police had been provoking protestors all day. Getting in our faces, dividing us and even violently shoving some protestors to the ground. Suddenly now, some protestors were spray painting, throwing water bottles and climbing on top of police cars.  

 

Since more protestors were near the Trump Tower the police decided to have all the bridges across the Chicago River lifted. This prevented us from crossing and continuing our march along Michigan Avenue.

 

So, instead we marched back down Lake Shore Drive, again, stopping traffic.

 

Once we got back to Michigan Avenue, I decided after three hours of peacefully protesting, that my feet hurt and I should hop back on the red line to go get to my car and head home. But, the bridges weren’t the only means of transportation that was shut down that day. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot shut down the trains going out of the city and the CTA. She also imposed a curfew for Chicago that began before protestors could even get out of the city.

 

Many protestors like me had no way of getting home now…why? Was this another way to keep protestors from flocking to the city? Surely, the protest in the previous month on the pandemic didn’t call for such restraints, so what’s the difference here? I just didn’t understand.

 

Luckily, I was able to call an Uber and finally head home. When I got home, I couldn’t believe my eyes: the news showed the streets of Chicago–the ones I had just been protesting on– engulfed in flames and people reeling from the tear gas lingering in the air.

 

It was upsetting to see. I too, hate the violence. However, while people argued about who started the fighting, I realized that question didn’t matter all that much. I think, who am I to decide how the black community responds to oppression that has imprisoned them over 400 years?  How much more can they take? How much violence will they endure until they are left with no choice, but violence? 

 

These are the questions people should be thinking about, especially those who don’t understand the “Black Lives Matter” movement. 

 

No one is listening to the black community. Their peaceful cries have fallen on deaf ears.

 

See, it wasn’t just Geroge Floyd’s death that sparked these protests and demands for change. We’re talking about the thousands of black lives, known and unknown, that have been taken by police brutality. About all the ones NOT caught on tape. We’re talking about the way the people in power have been killing the people they are supposed to protect. 

 

We, the people, are demanding systematic change in the way this country operates, and we’re just getting started.