Last month there was a silent march in protest of multiple acts of violence against GLBTQI people in DC. Not everyone was happy that it was a silent march. As one friend put it, hate crimes are an effort to silence. A silent march seemed to be the opposite of what should be done. I think the organizers lost quite a few people by making it a silent march.
Not everyone who objected to silence decided not to come to the march. Quite a few people, many of them with Occupy DC, decided to go. They also decided to ignore the organizers’ (and many of the participants’) desire for a silent march. They got loud. It so happened that I was at the back of the silent marchers and directly in front of the occupy people. I guess I didn’t look scruffy enough to be an occupier, so one of the organizers asked me to move up with the marchers and help them separate themselves from the occupiers.
Honestly, I have mixed emotions about the silent march. They lost people because it was silent. But I also know at least one person who did not go because he heard that people were planning on doing their own thing, regardless of what anybody else thought. So loud and confrontational lost people too.
If people thought that a silent march was bullshit, why not organize something different at another time? Why try to hijack another event? Or at least, if you are going to be more confrontational, do it in a clever way. Some of the protesters set up candlelit memorials in the intersections after the marchers went by. Still silent, but also more confrontational.
More importantly, the route of this march went through Columbia Heights and Shaw, some of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in this city. Many of those marchers were the very middle class white people who are part of that gentrification. The whole time we were walking I was wondering how those longtime residents were feeling about this march of gentrifiers. And I was wondering how many of those marchers had made real efforts to build relationships with the people who had been in that community their whole lives.
I am ambivalent about protests and marches. Too often they seem to be about nothing more than venting or warm fuzzies, rather than actually building the relationships that any real movement for change needs to be based on. Too often they seem to burn bridges rather than build them. There is a great list of questions over on Waging Nonviolence that people should ask themselves after actions. I can’t remember ever sitting in a room with people who actually asked them.
If you want real change, you have to have a significant number of people on your side. At the very least, you need most people not to want the cops to bash your head in. You don’t get that by completely disrespecting people. Is it really a great surprise that hardly anyone shows up when cops come to demolish occupy camps? People are only going to show up when they know you, when they like you (or at least respect you), when they know you have their back too.
I’d love for some of the people who showed up for that march to answer the questions I linked to above. I suspect the results would be sad – on all sides.