It was about 6 am this morning, and I was in the last part of today’s several times a week, 1 ½ hour, north Jersey bike ride, my freedom time. I was feeling pretty good, still high after my participation in yesterday’s historic demonstration of many thousands in Newark against racist police violence and white supremacy. Long-time residents of Newark said it was the largest demonstration they had seen in many decades.
All of a sudden I started seeing Black Lives Matter messages on the pavement within a Nutley, NJ park that I was riding through. Then I started seeing young people, teenagers, mainly women and mainly white, stretching out for what became a quarter of a mile, chalking literally dozens of messages, including: “We See You, We Hear You, We Mourn With You, We Stand With You, We Fight With You, Black Lives Matter”—“Remember George Floyd”—“Remember Ahmaud Arbery”—“Remember Breonna Taylor”—“Donate to Fund Racial Justice at Black Lives Matter”—“If You Are Neutral in Situations of Injustice, You Have Chosen the Side of the Oppressor, Desmond Tutu.”
As I rode my bike by these wonderful, inspiring young people, I gave every one of them a thumbs up or said, “good job,” or “great work.” It was like a gift from God.
As I continued my ride, I began thinking that I should go back and take some pictures, so after I got home, I got in our car and did just that. The young people were still there when I arrived, and after I took a number of pictures I spoke with one of them, an Asian American woman. I told her who I was, that I have been working on racial justice issues in NJ for 20 years, and that I was at the big demonstration yesterday in Newark. I asked her if their group was an organized thing, and she said no, that what had happened was that one of them who had gone to the Newark demonstration yesterday had texted to the others with this chalking idea. They were all Nutley residents. And like young people often do, they didn’t waste any time putting the idea into effect.
These are the kinds of things that happen when a mass movement is alive and well, inspiring and moving new people to action.
Nutley is not exactly a hotbed of anti-racism, or of progressive activism in general. It’s a predominantly Italian American town historically, though there have been some demographic changes in recent decades. For these young Nutley residents to be taking this early morning action was very noteworthy.
One of the many good things about the massive demonstration in Newark yesterday was the unity in action on the part of the predominantly Black and very multi-racial gathering. Larry Hamm, leader of the People’s Organization for Progress which called the action, made it clear over the loudspeaker to a lot of applause that if people were there for something other than the planned mass march for justice, they should go somewhere else. News reports this morning indicated that later in the day there was some minimal violence by some demonstrators, but none during the several hours of the march for justice.
I have no idea where all of the energy, overwhelmingly positive, of this multi-racial uprising against white supremacy is going to lead, as far as systemic changes in the way the racist US criminal justice system and individual police function. Right now, it sure looks like conditions have ripened for this piece of the progressive agenda, in addition to Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, a humane and just immigration policy and more, to become a top priority over the coming months.
That will only happen if not just Black people and other people of color but growing numbers of white people, like those chalking this morning, speak out and take action, taking Desmond Tutu’s words to heart and publicly rejecting the oppressive and racist system.
Ted Glick is the author of the just published Burglar for Peace: Lessons Learned in the Catholic Left’s Resistance to the Vietnam War. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.