“Precisely because not the economic but the social interests of different cross sections of the population were threatened by the market, persons belonging to various economic strata unconsciously joined forces to meet the danger.” —Karl Polanyi
On November 25th after long deliberation, the Grand Jury investigating the now infamous case of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of unarmed black resident Michael Brown, decided not to indict. Since then, numerous protests ranging from nonviolent demonstrations of civil disobedience to destruction of property have unfolded. In New York City, an unorganized protest started to develop at Union Square immediately after the announcement of the verdict, a place with a long tradition of protest. The protest then grew in size and power as it left Union Square and pressed towards several major avenues. Eventually the activists managed, due to the their sheer size, to block traffic and take over Times Square. This protest was critically important to the recent wave of activism taking over New York City because it was organic, it expanded and strengthened the activist network already present, and it prepared the city for when it would be hit by its own tragedy: the death of Eric Garner.
I was lucky enough as a Bronx resident to be near Union Square and to be at an event with a group of activists at the time. Darkmatter, a Queer Anti-Colonial organization, had invited several speakers to their event titled: “Queer/Anti-Colonial Struggle From the US to Palestine.” The discussion was focused on the interconnected qualities of solidarity and the recognition of a common cause between all marginalized groups. The event had a very heavy anti-capitalist tone, one which would reappear in the protest later that night.
During the first half of the meeting there was discussion and performance such as the one in this video:
After several hours, the grand jury verdict was announced by one of the discussion leaders and the room fell silent for several minutes in remembrance of Michael Brown. The injustice of the verdict, the perpetuation of racial hatred, and a deep sadness about the state of the United States weighed heavily in my mind for those few minutes; and then came the anger. People suddenly began to mobilize as they heard word of a protest forming at Union Square. At first, just a few people left the room, and then more followed including myself.
By the time the protest grew in size and had reached Time Square I was able to take some (albiet, amateur) video of what was happening that night:
Some of the most popular chants were: “hands up don’t shoot,” “justice for Mike Brown,” “whose streets? our streets,” and “NYPD KKK how many kids have you killed today.” These chants resemble much of what was heard during the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011, and I would not doubt that many of the people at the Michael Brown protest had previously participated in Occupy.
Looking around me, I was able to see a wide range of diversity in the protest. There were people who were from the middle and the lower classes, women and men, queer and straight, black and white. Surprisingly, due to the protest’s size, I happened to see many of the people who had attended DarkMatter’s Queer event earlier that evening. Although the recent national unrest may be characterized as simply a race related issue, the make-up of the protest was representative of the variety of different kinds of people with very different struggles that were coming together in response to another abuse by a structure that they view as oppressive.
This protest was the beginning of a series of protests in New York City that are continuing today. Their ultimate success has relied upon an already strong network of activists that has been growing ever since. As they continue, their success relies upon the people of the city, especially those who have been historically marginalized, similar to the LGBTQ community coming together in a common struggle against a system that has repeatedly denied them justice. Every act of protest has its own particular content and Michael Brown as human being, not a symbol, should never be forgotten. However, it is critical that members of any community come together in solidarity even when the issue does not seemingly affect them directly. On November 25th, we witnessed the start of a widespread movement in pursuit of universal equality and an end to prejudice. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.