by E. Johnson Cooper, Chief Millennial Officer
Before the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, before the non-indictment of the NYPD officers who killed Eric Garner, there was what only seemed to be a movement of hashtag bangwagonism plaguing our timelines. Before we got slapped in the face twice in three weeks by local judicial systems, all there seemed to be was anger, looting and pointless protesting and I wasn’t interested. I questioned the intentionality. I questioned the purpose. I questioned if this moment would or even could become a movement. However, in the days, weeks and months that followed dedicated groups of activists remained steadfast and have inspired me in the least likely of ways.
I remember the day In August my friend and fellow Aggie, Erika Totten called me. “I want to do something on the ground in Ferguson. What should I do? How should I get started?” My own feelings about protesting aside, I advised her to connect with those on the ground and see what their needs were. I told her to think strategically and make sure above all else, she helped to get the community what they needed. I didn’t hear from her after that but I saw her moving. I didn’t agree with a lot of what she was doing but I saw her hustle. I got especially annoyed last month when protesters held up traffic in D.C., disturbed shoppers and of all things, tried to stop the Macy’s Day Parade! I heard the chants, Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, and I saw the “Die In” demonstrations but no one could tell me the point of it all. I’m mad as hell too but how is inconveniencing regular ol’ folk going to get my point across? I want change too but why disrupt the lives of those who had nothing to do with the injustice? It just didn’t make sense to me. But the more twisted the reality of injustice became following the non-indictments, the more I began to search within myself for an answer.
Last Sunday my Pastor raised up the history of social justice and the presence we have to have in the moment. I left church and I began to think about what exactly was happening in our country. I happened onto social media and a post from Erika popped on my timeline. I needed to call my friend. She didn’t answer but I left her a message simply saying I was checking in on her and wanted to make sure she’s okay. The next day Rev. Al announced on the radio there would be a rally and march in D.C. to demonstrate to Congress how urgent the need for legislation is for cases that involve police and unarmed individuals. He spoke in such a way that I got it. I needed to be in the number.
After an internal debate with myself Saturday morning, I finally made my way to the rally. I left too late to catch the march but I was right on time for the rally. As I walked over to the stage area all of a sudden my eyes began to swell up and my chest got heavy. I pushed back my emotions and focused on just getting there. The amount of people standing together for one cause was overwhelming. I stood in awe of the faces who looked like me and especially those who didn’t look like me. I saw children standing along side their parents. The kids may not have fully understood what was happening but surely they knew that moment was important. Speakers from Ferguson to National Action Network to local protesters addressed the crowd. I didn’t know any of them, except one. When I looked behind the local protester speaking I saw my friend, Erika. I smiled. She was doing what she said she would do when she called me back in August, making her voice heard for a change. I felt nothing but joy and love for my friend and the hard work she’s been putting in. (I wasn’t there for the moment that has become the internet sensation. But it seems we all saw the folks from Ferguson because of her.) Before I could release my emotion, Rev. Al took the stage and spoke a word that brought everything full circle for me. He said, “We may not all agree. We may not use the same tactics. But we are all here for the same reason.” He couldn’t have said it better.
After we heard from Eric Garner’s family, Michael Brown’s parents, Tamir Rice’s mother, John Crawford’s father, it was time for me to go. I had heard all I needed to hear. I needed to find Erika. After only a few moments I found her behind the stage in the press area. “Erika!,” I yelled. She turned around and smiled. She came over, we embraced and all I could do was cry. All of the energy, emotion and frustration all let out onto Erika’s shoulder. She held on to me and told me it was okay. “It’s just all so overwhelming,” I said to her. “I know it is but I’m glad you’re here.” “Me too,’ I said, ‘me too.” As I departed the rally I could hear the voice of Amadou Diallo’s mother coming from the stage. Tears began to fall again.
My weekend ended at church yesterday for Faith Solidarity Sunday. I proudly wore all black and held my hands up with the congregation as a sign of surrender and solidarity during the benediction.
There are certain moments in life where being present matters. That moment is now. While I may not agree with how protest groups choose to get their voices heard, I now understand their point. If we have to gather at the steps of Congress twenty more times until legislation is passed, then I’m there to be counted in the number. The voices of our generation are rising up, I hope folks are ready.