trigger warning: this blog post specifically discusses acts of anti-black violence, overt white-supremacists, and unjust actions by police. Please take care when reading if you think these topics may affect you.
This blog is a condensed source of writings I have been doing over the past week to process local and national events. The blocked quotes originally appeared in my journal and/or on my personal Facebook.
On the evening of November 8, Donald Trump was elected president. On November 9, in response to an alleged shoplifting attempt, Allyn Gibson of Gibson's Bakery in Oberlin tackled, choked, and further assaulted a Black Oberlin College student. The police arrived and arrested the student and two Black bystanders who had attempted to intervene and stop Mr. Gibson from further harming the student.
What followed were two days of protests organized by Black Obies that many students and community members participated in. Here is what scribbled down on my feed immediately after attending the peaceful sidewalk protest outside Gibson's on Thursday, November 10.
NON-BLACK OBIES PLEASE READ:
As I was at the uprising located in front of Gibson's today here are some things I jotted down. As a fifth year, this is the next of many waves of organizing I have seen on campus and I want organizers to feel supported, taken care of, and I want folks to be cognizant of burnout. I want to do everything I can to bring in the feminized emotional labor too often discarded and feel the ways to hold one another.
I want to remind everyone that there are a million ways to come to the work and this post includes some best practices AS WELL AS CONCRETE NEXT STEPS to be involved in standing against anti-black racism and violence.
(also I'm writing this pretty frantic and it's like my [immediate reactions], this is not the articulate think piece that I'm sure I will write later)
-White folks, get our own. Organize without needing people of color to hold our hands. Have those hard-ass conversations that don't win you social capital points and explain what's going on to your family, your friends, to people who can give their resources. Convince them to do so.
-Act in direct response to the vocalized demands of Black and other POC organizers. If you don't know what these are, you are not getting close enough. Do not question the motives or actions of these organizers, our job is to DO not to critique.
-Always redirect attention to the affected who can best speak on it. If you are approached by reporters, tell them to ask a central organizer and point out who that is. If your writing is garnering attention, make it clear you are quoting people and direct them to the writings of Black people.
-Get your butt to Cleveland and get involved in the actions there. (THERE ARE TWO THIS WEEKEND! Coordinate rides!)
-Take on emotional work. Make the time and set aside the energy to let people process with you.
CONCRETE ACTION STEPS:
1. Offer your labor. Yes show up to protests, but also use your labor to benefit the lives of people doing the hard on the ground organizing work. Do their laundry, buy them food, etc.
[when I initially posted this, I linked a Google doc I established for people with oberlin.edu accounts to list various means of support to Black organizers. I shared it widely on Facebook and it served as a means to ensure Black organizers were having their needs taken care of.]
2. GIVE YOUR MONEY. This is a fund that I have set-up to raise funds for Black organizers to do with as they will. Control will be given over to ABUSUA and other organizers when I have made those lines of contact. [Update, as of 11/11/16, the funds raised have been directed to a Black organizer.]
Challenge yourself to give $10 today, right now. And spread widely.
3. Contact the administration and demand they take legal action against Gibson's and its long history of anti-Black harassment.
4. Fill out CDS comment cards demanding CDS no longer use Gibson's as a venue.
It was important to me to immediately mobilize white students to declare that this form of anti-Black vigilante justice is unacceptable in our community. I wanted to start leveraging funds and resources into student efforts to respond to this horrible incident. The fundraiser is still live, and if you are a current Oberlin student, you can view the spreadsheet and contribute your skills there. (As this is being recorded for the blogs though, if you're reading this long after I initially published, this may no longer be the case.) Additionally, as a support person, I wanted people to be taking care of themselves. Assaults on our community, and for some, assaults on their personhood, are exhausting. Protests are emotionally intense spaces, and from the very beginning there were counter-protesters who were defending Gibson's, some screaming racial slurs, gendered insults, and goading protesters.
Before going back to Gibson's on Thursday night I updated my Facebook status again:
If you see me downtown I am acting as a STREET MEDIC. As the night comes and temperature drops pay special attention to your body. Do not wear cotton as it will cool your core temp and stay hydrated. Things you can ask me for:
-jackets/scarves/gloves (limited supplies)
Stay strong out here!
When I returned that Thursday evening and again Friday afternoon, I saw a beautiful community gathering. People had donated food, coffee, throat drops, warm clothes, and hand warmers to support protesters in freezing conditions. People sang. Black organizers led the crowd in chanting and were ever-present with determination and enthusiasm. People intentionally were not taking photos or engaging with any present media, a strategic decision because Oberlin activism has historically been distorted by the press. Within the campus community two student outlets made their voices publicly heard: the Oberlin Review published an article and our Student Senate released a statement. I have seen a lot of student activism in my five years, and this was deeply powerful and memorable time. People were out there caring for one another, demanding accountability for a deeply harmful act, praising each other's existences, and supporting each other in the wake of the election. Many signs that protesters held declared "This Goes Deeper," and indeed, it did and does.
By Friday evening, hecklers were in front of Gibson's in full force and the police were pretty unapologetically defending them. The Lorain County Chronicle-Telegram filmed students without their consent, placing cameras further in our faces when politely asked not to film. The protest organizers consistently instructed everyone to not engage, to remain silent, to give everyone room. The police, who stood side by side with counter-protesters casually chatting, would bark at us to move every once in awhile. To be honest, I was surprised by such a distinctive difference between their treatment of us and the pro-Gibson's counter protest. It was a moment that really shook me; the police were not on our side. They said that they were there to keep the peace and keep us safe, but their actions were telling me a different story.
By Saturday morning a biker gang of twenty-or-so white men were posted outside Gibson's. According to the Support Gibson's Facebook Page, which has since been deleted for hate rhetoric violating Facebook's Community Standards, Gibson's was encouraging armed open-carriers to enter their store. Again, in a strategic effort, Black student organizers chose to not protest at this time as a safety measure and to prevent burnout--because 48 hours of protesting is a hefty feat. People were exhausted and scared, members of our community were recovering from being assaulted, and people online and outside Gibson's were mocking and tormenting us. This week has been a really ugly moment for me in witnessing how humans treat other humans. Particularly Black humans--it was so clear to me at so many different points that people adamantly supporting Gibson's did not care about the safety or life of this student who had been attacked. Many of the supporters were framing us protestors as entitled students who have no respect for the community, but that is truly not the issue. Mulling over this, I published this on Sunday to both my personal Facebook and the Gibson's Facebook page:
Last night I needed to warn my mother she might receive death threats/intimidating messages from people trying to scare me.This post is about processing more than it is about making it a point. But if I do have a point, it's this: when people who experience racism are telling you that something is about race, listen. Believe traumatized people who are hurting and make room in this world for that hurt. There is enough cruelty out there, this election has shown me that. Do what you can to make that hurt less, not more. I spent a lot of this week feeling pretty hopeless. And if you've reached the end of this blog post feeling the same way, I'm going to end with my last Facebook post from this ordeal. It gives me the hope and the courage and the humility to keep going, as I hope these words do for you too:
I am getting said death threats for executing my legal right to protest and standing outside Gibson's bakery saying, "Black Lives Matter" and "I will not stand for the assault of Black people."
This is not a town-gown issue. Despite the super ignorant belief that we're all uppity college students, many of us, especially many of us protesting, come from marginalized backgrounds. My maternal family have been white working-class people in Michigan for four generations. My paternal family have been rural poor/working-class people in Ohio for as long as anyone knows. It is a complete insult to myself and the people who raised me to be told that I'm confused because I don't know poverty and I don't know community.
I promise you, I would not be in the freezing cold against people threatening me with sexual and bodily violence, if I did not know community.
Point blank, it is not okay to assault Black people. (In fact, no matter how many times you shout it's not about color, it is actually racist.) Petty shoplifting is not a crime that warrants assault on your body or jail time. Not to mention it has not been proven in a court of law that that crime actually occurred, but I digress. Out of all the shoplifting cases at Gibson's, there were in fact three against OC college students last week alone, I only know of Black people being attacked. We live in a country where a Black person is killed by a police officer or by vigilante justice every 28 hours. When will you look at that fact and just say, "wow, yeah, there is something about white supremacy at work here."
There are literally people with guns and known ties to white-supremacist organizations defending Gibson's right now. And to all of you still giving them 5-star reviews, think for a second about what that means about who you ally yourself with.
And for white liberals who are against this but not against it enough to do something about it, think again. Because this election has everyone shook and everyone realizing that the right is ready to move. Do not be silent bystanders while atrocities are committed. Start leveraging your power and resources to protect people right now before it starts to get so much worse.
I'll end with the response my mother sent me last night. A public school educator for thirty years, she told me: "I am sorry it has come to this but I am proud of you and am counting on you and others to push back. Do it with love in your heart, not hate. I will never forgive the fear [Trump and my fellow citizens] have put into my students that will change their lives forever. I love you and be careful."
When I feel exhaustion and fear, I turn to G-d. I am walking to somewhere better, and I can hear the singing.
A Promise through the Ages Rings
A Unitarian Universalist Hymn1 A promise through the ages rings, that always, always, something sings. Not just in May, in finch-filled bower, but in December's coldest hour, a note of hope sustains us all.
2 A life is made of many things: bright stars, bleak years, and
broken rings. Can it be true that through all things, there
always, always something sings? The universal song of life.
3 Entombed within our deep despair, our pain seems more than
we can bear; but days shall pass, and nature knows that deep
between the winter snow a rose lies curled and hums its song.
4 For something always, always sings. This is the
message Imboc brings: from deep despair and perished things
a green shoot always, always springs, and something always,