Since last year, local citizens have braved Market Square in Newburyport to advocate that Black lives matter. They peacefully hold signs and wave to passing cars and pedestrians who honk or wave their support.
During summer months, many of those gathered were young, mostly white girls, giving additional pause to onlookers who may disagree with this ongoing effort: youths may remind them that a new world is being born amid the tired excuses of older society.
Some onlookers, in noncommittal fashion, say nothing or look away. The demonstrators, I among them, give benefit of doubt to them. We realize they may not yet know what to think, or are not sure how to respond.
Some are typically on the fence, and we know that sometimes they move from it. A rare few wave us off disapprovingly but rude or obscene gestures are extremely rare, and the sign wavers avoid retaliation. The best encounters are when passers-by engage us with honest questions or comments.
If you’ve never been part of a “demonstration,” or walked in protest parades and gatherings, do not think this is some kind of easy posturing by people who love being in the public’s face. Should you ever so participate, you will find the first time is daunting, given that it is humanly more natural to prefer being safely lost in crowds.
One can feel frighteningly exposed, especially from looks that are unpleasant or threatening. We know that a “crazy” can come out of nowhere and assault our health and well-being; the fact that it may not have happened up to a point is to ignore the one time that such may occur, with tragic results.
To my knowledge, on a sole occasion, the younger ones among us were harassed, prompting apprehension of the attacker and an outcry from city leaders.
The presence of youths can actually soften public reaction that might be harsher toward adult demonstrators, reminding the public of their own kids and how our instincts are to protect, not harm them. On the other hand, assaults may target those deemed weaker, rather than adults that may better defend themselves.
The world is changing. People young and old are realizing that nothing has been gained by waiting for society to wake up or for an evolution in morals. It is more than 150 years after emancipation, long too after the failure of Reconstruction, the flourish of Jim Crow and the KKK and, as the Good Book says, “We are not saved.” We are unsaved from our brutality and violence or from our outright unfairness, and from our lack of acceptance of who and what is different.
We have rejected the principles of our own religion, not to mention those of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Statues of our country’s enemies have been flaunted in our most public spaces and their removal has created violent reactions in society.
And now, we are moving to make voting more difficult for the people most deprived of it since our beginnings.
When people engage demonstrators in a sincere way, it is often with something that seems to make most sense to them: “Don’t ALL lives matter?” they will ask, but with a tinge of blunt certitude.
Yes, all lives do matter, in principle. In actuality, some lives don’t, and haven’t. George Floyd’s death was not an anomaly; it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“All lives matter” was clearly out of balance, out of whack. If you say to me that your house is on fire and I reply that lots of houses burn, I’m dismissing your concern. I would do so as well if I replied that other people’s homes get flooded, and that is just as bad.
The lives of Blacks, Asians, Jews, GLBTQs, women and the children that are domestically abused, and of so many others, are on fire and their well-being in perpetual jeopardy.
Maybe this is why people must grow old and die — so that new generations may come forth with new dreams and a demand for truth and justice because the older among us won’t let go and let things change.
If we don’t serve life, we don’t deserve it, either. We’re just in the way. As long as Black lives don’t matter, neither do ours.
And be assured, when all lives truly matter, people like me will shut up.
John Burciaga of Newburyport writes on politics, social issues and popular culture, and may be engaged directly at Ichabod142@gmail.com.