Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Importance of Risk

By the time word got out about today's "Day Without Latinos" protest, I already had a very full day scheduled. Clients, calls, attending a class, giving a talk.

On the one hand, being self-employed can give me a lot of flexibility. On the other hand, I seem to always have to be working to make ends meet.

But then one client canceled and another moved her appointment back. A larger time gap opened. I looked out my window at the students and families streaming down my street to East Washington Avenue and quickly got some supplies together - camera, water, snack. I joined the crowd, shocked at how many were walking over a mile to get to the Capitol.

We were marching already, a pre-march march, filling the twelve blocks of sidewalks leading to the Capitol where the march was scheduled to begin. Families toted children, high school kids tested their swagger with each other. I floated along, awash in Spanish. I smiled at people, picked up fallen mittens, stayed in near silent reverence the whole way, frequently bursting into quiet tears.

Closer to the Capitol, a Latino man in his twenties fell into step with me and switched out of Spanish with his friend and into English with me. He pointed to my camera, as yet unused but hanging around my neck. 
"You taking photos for someone?"
"Nope. Just me. I think it is important to document."
"How do you feel about all this?" he continued. 
"Pissed off and sad."
He nodded. He mentioned coming in from Milwaukee with his friends, and that so many people he knew wanted to come but could not miss work.
"That's why I am here," I said. "An acquaintance reminded her Facebook friends last night that those of us who can should, to represent the folks who are most affected by this and can't."
He nodded.
"How do you feel about all this?" I asked.
"Scared," he replied, and more tears sprang out of my eyes. 

I felt my white fragility, how my response is at a distance, a rage, a mourning. His fear cut into my fog of feeling. 

I don't attend protests much anymore. They make me anxious and I tire of derisive slogans. But this one was pure empowerment. Taco carts handing out free food and water to families. People singing. Si se puede, Yes we can, the most common chant. I felt raw vulnerability, and strength in that. 

I remembered that protests can inspire, can connect, collect us together to feel. I felt and felt and felt, and left full. Still mad, still sad, and also afraid. But also human, more so because of taking a risk it wasn't that hard for me to take, on behalf of so many for whom it would have been impossible. 

I do not believe that makes me a better person. I don't think I made much of a difference by going. But it changed me, brought me close to others. That is the real risk for people of privilege: to care, to feel, to connect - not just to get angry at something on the Internet or cry after reading an article but actually exist outside with others on a line together, being raw, exposed and a part of the whole.

Why is it risky for privileged people to go to a protest? Most of us won't lose our jobs or get put in jail or deported. It's risky because we feel and connect with other feeling people. Because once we do that, there's no denying we have a lot of work to do. Gentle, powerful, perpetual change. We become partners, participants. We are asked to use our privilege for the forces of good.

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