Protesting? Still Processing.


It’s shortly after curfew, and we’re eating dinner. From the balcony, we can see the people on the trail. They are walking, exercising, going somewhere, leaving somewhere. The trail runs under the expressway. Like the river, it is lower than its surroundings. The People Under The City, I think. The trail runs along the river, next to the railroad. It is after curfew. The People On The Underground Railroad, I think. Most of the people I see in this moment are black.

I wonder if they are on their way home. I wonder if they know that it is curfew. I wonder if they are leaving a protest, even though many of them are clearly dressed for exercise. I wonder if they are actively defying the curfew. If they are essential and exercising after work. I wonder if they feel safe. They are under the city, out of range of…the activity. I know I have no right to judge any of this. What I really wonder is if the police or the National Guard are patrolling the trail; if the people are in danger. I wonder about the idea of going about one’s business in the midst of this uprising happening amidst a pandemic. I need to mind my own damn business. I relax. I am coming down from an apex of frenzied thoughts.

Friday morning** was my first day out of The Zone. I had stayed in my anxious body until Thursday, when my last post was finished. In a group text with some college friends (with the exception of me, all white-bodied), one of my more conservative friends, E, shares that they’ve been exchanging anti-racist resources on another channel; she throws in a link to a convo between Brené Brown and Ibram X. Kendi. I am impressed.

I bravely share my post with them, mostly to sum up why I’ve been largely absent for the week. A few of them share what anti-racist work they’ve been doing with their kids. 

E reveals that she has been moved to head out into the streets, even though she has never protested, but after following quarantine norms for so long and being at home, she’s not there yet.

It is at that moment that I am righted and awake.

I might be ready to protest. Safely, like a responsible mom with a child during a pandemic. Not now. Not tomorrow, but maybe in a week or two, or a month. Maybe after I get my antibody test or after we speak with Goose’s doctor, or after we see if there’s a spike in cases due to reopening or if/once I feel more comfortable around people.

Over the course of the week, snippets of the rules for staying safe during a protest came back to my mind, but I couldn’t really grasp them until after Thursday — after I had worked it through. There are ways we can show up and stay, in most cases, safe — from police violence? From counter protestors? From agitators? From The Coronavirus? And also, there are ways of taking action without protesting — although there’s a strong argument for the number of bodies in the streets affecting change from the local level to the Supreme Court.

I wake up Saturday, knowing our game plan. We will have breakfast, get dressed and get outside. We will be back before the protest begins, as the roads will be largely closed.

As we approach the railroad tracks by bicycle to get onto the river trail, we see a large group of people with signs. They are so homogenous, it takes me a second to realize they are heading to the protest, and that they are using the trail to get there. And so are a WHOLE lotta other people, I see as we cross the tracks, hop on our bikes, and then wait to embark as people stream by us.

They are mostly white, and ethnically mixed, with other ethnicities mixed in. It’s a rainbow of melanin, skewing light. They have their signs — mostly scrawled on cardboard, mostly saying Black Lives Matter. There is the occasional small group of black and brown people or black individuals on the way to the protest too. I smize as we pass. Helmet, face mask, sunglasses, they cannot see this.

I feel bonded to the man, who is black, in front of us. He is wearing Adidas Superstars. I am wearing Adidas Superstars. He is going to the protest. We are not going to the protest. This feels OK. He has done this before. He is dressed not to stay cool, but to not get burned.

I want to say thank you to the protesters as we pedal by, brown-skinned mother and daughter. I wonder if they judge me. Clearly everyone we are passing is on their way to the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to attend today’s protest. We are not. Gut check — I am OK with this. And now I am elated, buoyed by the numbers heading North.

But not everyone is going to the protest. We pass several black folks, mostly individuals, just out exercising. Maybe a few small groups. Just exercising, going about their day. Just Living While Black. This makes me happy too.

We are out of the apartment, we are biking beneath the city, people are showing up.

It occurs to me that I have thought nothing of people passing too closely. No judgments about masked and unmasked people have hijacked my mind. Nary a thought about the lack of physical distancing right now. I am aware of distance. I am not hyper-anxious about it.

We hit Martin Luther King Jr. Drive — closed to cars during quarantine — and I am joyous. I am not the only person relieved. I see other families, exercising with their children, who seem to light up when they see us. They are not alone.

People cycling to the protest, walking to the protest. People out exercising, people out living Their Damn Lives. This all feels so good in this moment. I am freed from myself.

I am both exhausted and energized. As we approach the 2-mile mark of our ride, I suggest to Goose that we go a little farther than normal before turning back…after all it is Saturday. I am smiling.

After we turn around — at ironically, Black Dr ( I feel like A would include that irony, because with her quick wit, she can without missing an empathetic beat) — I see a dad with a kids’ bike seat, attached, a piece of white paper, written with marker “Black Lives Matter.” I am inspired.

As we approach the trail, I see a stream of people crossing the road toward the museum at the top of the hill ahead — and protest signs. I am joyous. As we coast down the trail, it is full of people walking towards us. They fill the trail. Peaceful protestors. Little space for cyclists like us to pass, but today I do not mind. Today I do not see “little spikey viruses” as Goose calls them.

We are The People Under The City now. We are free…(ish)

I wonder briefly if they judge me for going the wrong direction. My eyes fill with tears. I wonder if they know I am on their side. They are on my side. We are on the same side. My heart is so full, it is bursting. I want to wave to them and say thank you. I smize, futily. Helmet, sunglasses, face mask, they can’t see this. I release tears of joy, as much as one can with all this face armor on. I want to stop and take a picture. I want to offer them water bottles I do not even have with me. I want to blow kisses, and put my hands to my heart, and wave love to them. I want them to know how grateful I am for their presence. A small part of me wants to throw my bike down and join them.

There are so many of them, we have to wait to cross the trail and dismount.

As we climb the stairs up to our building, I can’t help but gleefully watch through the windows, the neverending flow of people going to the protest. As an oncoming train comes, I hold my breath as they scramble through the gate from the railroad tracks to the trail.

I feel light all afternoon. I take a shower — washing my hair for the first time in a week. Showers were had over the last seven days, but they were too quick for such details. I break out the Sally Hansen and do a little waxing. I do a little tweezing. This daytime shower, free of sirens and noise weapons and fear, is amazing. I wipe down the bathroom counters. Cleaning can happen tomorrow.

I proceed with the weekend chores. Today is composed of more household admin and less worry than last Saturday. I buy a couple Black Lives Matter stickers for our bicycles, and shop a few more face masks from Black-owned businesses and some Etsy sellers.

The highway is closed today. The helicopters are omnipresent, but occasionally drowned out by cheers from the crowd on the parkway; we can hear the drumming. It is sunny and breezy and beautiful outside. There are no cars or police caravans.

I scroll Twitter during a break from the helicopters, wondering how the protest has proceeded. I find a gorgeous video from the NBC news chopper, of the thousands of people streaming the Ben Franklin Parkway, just a few blocks away. I excitedly show Goose how beautiful it is. She is unimpressed. I teasingly ask if she wants to go. “No,” she sneers. “The Coronavirus” she says. Not a sprig of anxiety do I feel.

“We’re going to have to go one day….” I trail off.

I run a hot bath. I tuck Goose into her room with an On Being podcast.

I wait for my bath to cool a bit, and turn on Colbert. I am confused by the date, this episode airing only five days earlier. Surely it has been two weeks since last weekend. No, you fool, you are back in real time now.

I continue decompressing as Colbert and Killer Mike chat about his speech last Friday. At the end, not only does he give guidance to ALL of us on how to proceed in this moment and always, but also describes his newest release — Run The Jewels 4 — ”as drinking a fresh cup of coffee, getting punched in the face, and then smoking a joint and getting a hug afterwards.” Dead. I feel like myself again.

I dip into a candlelit bubble bath with epsom salt, baking soda and essential oils, and turn on a meditation. My choice: Bethany Auriel-Hagan’s Open To Receiving.


PS. After reading Kat’s post, Reader Elisabeth reminded us of this quote from Audre Lorde:

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.


**This post was written the first week of June, a week after Thoughts On Not Protesting & Other Disappointing Responses (Including My Own).

What To Know About Protesting, The Pandemic & The Police

Last Weekend’s Watch List

Moving Forward Together — Start Here

  • ‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence’ — An amazing conversation between Krista Tippet, and therapist and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem that was actually recorded in Minneapolis before lockdown, and before the murder of George Floyd. They acknowledge that we’ve done a lot to try and change laws, but we haven’t really healed our bodies. They discuss how race and its trauma lives in the body, and how it manifests for “white bodies,” “black bodies,” “bodies of culture” and “police bodies,” and what they see in each other, as well as not confusing niceness with anti-racism. It can also help expand one’s understanding of what people mean when they say “black lives,” “black bodies” or “black and brown bodies,” terms that are implicitly tied to the legacy of slavery and the trauma of the labor of capitalism in America.
  • Mike Brown Learns How to Do the Uprising Thing — This gem from Samantha Bee explains how uprisings, such as the current movement are uniquely American, and how effective this one is, and past ones were.
  • Understand Intersectionality — Some people find the word “intersectionality” a road block — as in, they get caught up in trying to understand what it means. I could tell you what I think it is, but that may be for a different post. However, I heard this conversation with Reverend William Barber on The Brian Lehrer Show yesterday, and Reverend Barber, leader of North Carolina’s celebrated and effective Moral Monday movement (if you’re not familiar, I’ll be circling back to it in a later post) illustrates it more beautifully and illustratively than I ever could, and with specific examples relevant to how we get there in this moment. Learn more about Reverend Barber here. Read about Moral Mondays here. Attend the June 20 digital march here.
  • Yes, Black Lives Matter is intersectional. Read the “About” here (if you haven’t already) and “What We Believe” here.

On Protesting & Police Violence

The tear gassing of protesters in Philadelphia (which happened on the expressway outside our window) and the kettling of protestors in the Bronx, were two particularly egregious acts of violence that first week of June, after my last post ends. This NYTimes video analysis truly illustrates the horror of the Philly entrapment on the Vine expressway (part of which I witnessed from our window).

On Protesting During A Pandemic

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