Charlottesville, Protest, Ongoing Work and Symbolic Nazi Punches

Today wasn’t my first protest, but it wasn’t far from it – and it was my first protest of this type; something formed quickly in direct response to a particular incident. I posted a while back about how my focus has been on volunteering/education rather than protest and direct action, and I’m fine with that, everyone finds their own work – but I said that I wanted to stay open to opportunities for protest, and this wasn’t something I would’ve been okay with sitting out.

It was a great gathering and an excellent group of speakers – the Knoxville News Sentinel livestreamed the whole thing. I was particularly impressed with Representative Rick Staples; his message about refusing to turn away from difficult situations and choosing to become dangerous was powerful.

I participated in my first Black Lives Matter chant. It felt significant, and it felt overdue.

There was a police presence but it was small – and I wonder how that same event would’ve been different if had been organized by Black Lives Matter. There were folks there from BLM, but the event was organized and promoted by the Women’s March Coalition. I was so aware the whole time that I’m a middle class white woman and I was attending a rally organized primarily by white women – almost all of the speakers were people of color and they were the voices of the event, but when an organization that’s known to be run by middle class white women organizes an event in Market Square, the response is different than it would have been if it had been organized directly by Black Lives Matter. I’m not saying that this detracted from the event – in fact I think it was an example of using white privilege for good – it’s just something I wanted to be aware of.

I’m glad that Knoxville responded so quickly. It makes me proud of my city that I didn’t have to drive two hours to go to an event like this, I just had to walk two miles. I’m proud of the amazing and diverse collection of leaders and activists and educators and elected officials who spoke. I’m proud that our mayor was there via livestream even though she’s apparently traveling currently.

And it tears me up that we had to have this event in the first place. It tears me up that white supremacy is still a thing. That people – real people – can even believe such hideous things.

Not long ago, something like this would’ve happened and I would’ve just thrown my hands up and said I didn’t know what to do to help, and I would’ve retreated into my world of entertainment and not actually looked for ways to help. Going to a rally isn’t going to fix the world, but it’s something – it’s getting out there and standing up with people in my city who believe that our country can – and must – fight this crisis. And maybe I’m not out there on a front line literally punching Nazis in the face, but every time I go to Centro to help immigrants learn to speak English, I like to think I’m delivering a symbolic punch in the face to the white supremacists. And I’m just going to keep on doing that. A particular rally may be a one-time thing, but the message it sends to the city – and the country – is important, and so is the organization and motivation that comes as a result, and the energy that people take away. I came away ready to keep plugging away at my Spanish studies and to go into Centro next week and deliver some symbolic Nazi punches.

So Many Kinds of Pride

I mentioned before that I didn’t want to restrict the topics of this blog – I’ve tried that before, blogging on a single theme, and inevitably I have other things that I want to natter about and so I either feel like I’m going off topic or I just trail off of posting because what I want to post about doesn’t seem to fit the space. The title “JJ Does Today” seemed fitting, both in its openness and in its hint of where I’ve been going with my life – trying to do a better job of getting more out of each day; giving more to each day.

And man did we ever do the shit out of yesterday.

Yesterday was Pride – and I’m pretty sure Pride this year is the 21st anniversary of my first ever Pride Fest. There weren’t parades where I grew up, but we had a festival every year and the summer I turned 18 was my first one. I was so freaking excited – just being at this event that celebrated the awesomeness of the parts of me that so many other people were telling me were shameful was overwhelmingly joyful. To this day I still get a hit of that mojo at Pride – it’ll never be as heady as it was when I was a teenager, nothing ever is, but seeing so many people celebrating and reveling and being their beautiful, queer, sometimes mundane, sometimes over-the-top and sometimes thoroughly weird selves – their proud selves, no matter where they fall – still chokes me up every time.

We watched the parade, then headed to the festival – they had more security this year which I appreciated, but it meant for a longish wait to get inside, which was still fun and heartening – it was great that so many people were willing to wait and it was hilarious hearing some of the chants people came up with to troll the inevitable handful of protesters, some of whom had signs protesting truly odd and specific sins – one guy had a sign with an extremely detailed list of the types of people facing hellfire. Apparently you’re going to hell if you’re a sports fan, or a country music fan? Who knew? One guy had a big sign protesting the evils of “Homo Sex” and so at one point the crowd just chanted “Homo sex! Homo sex!” I was a fan of that one.

We didn’t stay terribly long – it was hot and crowded and we had another event to go to in the evening, and spending a long chunk of time at Pride is really best if you’ve got a crew to hang with. We ran into a few friends and there were a few others that we knew were there that we didn’t run into, but everyone was going in their own directions. We listened to the gay men’s chorus sing (including Let It Go with a drag Elsa) and I bought a Human Rights Campaign “Love Conquers Hate” tank top and a new set of freedom rings (though no one calls them that anymore – young queer folk never have any idea what I’m talking about when I say “freedom rings”) just because seeing them brought back so much nostalgia. Mostly I was thrilled just to be there and soak up the vibes for a while.

(And I gotta say, when I saw that there was an FBI booth recruiting folks for jobs I was so tempted to go up to them and say “Lordy, I didn’t expect to see you here!”)

In between events I ran to the co-op to grab some groceries and I saw our wonderful badass mayor – I see her there from time to time and I’ve always been too shy to introduce myself, but yesterday was a brave day. I was thinking about how I’d met her at Pride years ago, the first time she campaigned for mayor (she lost that time, and didn’t try again for a few years), and how much I appreciate having a mayor that makes me proud – and that regularly shows up at Pride. So I went up to her and awkwardly and gushingly told her that I thought she was awesome and thanked her for helping me to be proud of my city. I kept it short, I didn’t want to bug her too much while she was just trying to get her groceries, but she seemed to appreciate it – I can’t imagine anyone minds too much being stopped so that someone can tell them that they’re awesome.

The second event of the day was World Refugee Day – Matthew and I do volunteer work for Bridge Refugee Service from time to time and we’d offered to help out at this event. We had no idea what we’d end up doing, these things almost always end up being full of surprises with Bridge, and last night was no exception. We ran a few errands carrying things and setting things up, but then they asked us if we’d help another volunteer get a soccer game started for any kids that might want to join in while their parents were looking at booths or listening to the musicians. I should mention that neither of has any idea how to play soccer or knows anything about the rules. Fortunately Brandon, the other volunteer that we were working with, was more knowledgeable than us – and a bit less awkward with kids. It took a little while for it to catch on, but in time we had a good number of kids coming and going from the “game,” which was really just a bunch of kicking and running around.

There were kids from literally all over the world on that field. At one point they decided that the loosely-defined teams were England and Brazil. I think I was supposed to be on the England team but I’m not sure – at one point they tried to get Matthew and I to be the refs but then they realized how hopeless we were at actually knowing the rules. So we ran around, kicked balls, kept an eye on them, listened to them be rowdy and high spirited – and there was definitely something a bit magical about being out on that field with kids who look so very different from each other, watching them tumbling and cheering while listening to musicians from various countries, then listening to the raffle numbers translated into multiple different languages, on a warm summer evening with the sun setting and folks from all around the community celebrating the bravery of these people who have brought their families here through struggles I can only imagine.

There was a lot of Pride of various kinds in my day yesterday. And amusingly enough, the last musician did a cover of Born This Way, which of course we’d heard at the Pride Parade – it was a fitting way to bookend the day.

When the event was over we helped clean up – there was a lot of running around and carrying; we were both definitely wiped out by the end of the day, but it was an exhaustion full of all sorts of good vibes. I’ve been ending more days like that lately – exhausted, but filled up. It’s a good kind of change.

Podcasts & Conversations

Thoughts from today:

1. Vive la France! I was relieved when Wilders lost in the Netherlands and I’m relieved today. I don’t claim to understand the intricacies of politics in other countries (there’s still a ton I don’t understand about the intricacies in my own) but I know I’m relieved that the rest of the world isn’t jumping into crazy with both feet along with us and the UK.

2. This week’s Lovett or Leave It was awesome – I gotta say, I’m almost completely off of TV right now and I don’t remember the last time I watched a sitcom, but I would watch the hell out of Everybody Hates Comey.

3. My typical Sunday podcast binge also included the first episode of Pod Save the People which was excellent and inspiring and I’m looking forward to it being a part of my regular podcast rotation. One of the guests – shared advice from his father that was to always be worth more than you cost in any situation. That’s something to aspire to.

4. A group of local Methodist churches have been hosting monthly Continuing Conversations on Race talks for a while, and I’ve been going for the past three months (the way I got involved in this is a tale for a separate post, because it’s really tied in with my journey to find my volunteer niche). Today was the last meeting before they take a break for the summer. It’s always a fascinating and enriching but also kind of odd experience for me because it’s very likely I’m usually the only non-Christian in the room. The talks are very social justice oriented and the Christianity that goes along with them is the kind of Christ-centered Christianity that I’m totally down with even if it’s not my belief so it doesn’t bother me at all, there’s just definitely an element of being an outside observer at times. I always get a lot out of the talks – today’s theme was Trailblazers, and several people told their stories – a woman from Haiti whose family had to leave around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis; a man who spent a week in jail after being arrested at a lunch counter protest during the Civil Rights Movement; the pastor of the hosting church who was raised in Alabama and was a student when integration first started there. And there was good conversation at our table during the small group chat part, too.

Part of pushing myself out of my bubble has just been cultivating a willingness to put myself in situations that I find awkward or outside my comfort zone if it means I’m going to have the chance to connect with people I normally wouldn’t connect with, who have experiences that I need to better understand.

And now I’m going to kick back with some 90% chocolate and a coconut La Croix and do a few Spanish lessons. Buenas noches!

My Panhandling Fund

I didn’t used to give money to panhandlers – if someone asked me for money I’d brusquely but truthfully tell them that I didn’t carry cash and keep moving. Then I heard an interview on the BBC with a man who lived on the streets for an extended period of time in order to be able to write about the experience and he said that one of the worst parts of it was the feeling of dehumanization – that other people didn’t acknowledge his existence.

I realized how frequently I avoided eye contact with people that I perceived to be potential panhandlers because I wanted to try to avoid the awkward encounter of being asked for, and declining to give, money. That made me think – what if I just … gave them some money? Even just a little, every time? What if I always kept money on me to be able to give? Then I wouldn’t feel like I had to avoid looking at someone, smiling at someone, because if they asked me for money I’d just give them some. Who cares if the story they tell about why they need the money is true – who cares what they use it for – this is a person in need and I am a person of privilege and I can afford to give folks a buck or two here and there and not notice the difference in my budget.

So I started keeping cash with me. The difference I was hoping for – feeling more inclined to make eye contact and smile at people – definitely resulted. I also enjoy having cash on hand to give to buskers, something I wanted to make a point of doing regularly since reading Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking.

Matthew and I usually have dinner at our neighborhood food co-op’s hot bar on Saturday evenings. Tonight there was a man at one of the tables with drawing supplies set out on the table and he struck up a conversation with us. He was selling hand lettered Mother’s Day cards and, because I had cash from my panhandling fund, I bought one from him. He was an odd duck but a sweet man – we chatted about dramatic weather and how spicy the chicken wings are at the hot bar (he said they set his head on fire – honestly they’re pretty damned mild really). It was the kind of interaction I would’ve tried to escape from before – and I’m still not great at it; I’m an introvert and chatting with strangers is hardly my strong suit but within reason/limits if someone wants to talk a little, I want to be open to that. Nudging myself out of the bubble.