A Tale of Two Protests by Chris Thompson

photo of United States capital building and lawn

A Tale of Two Protests 

Yesterday the 6th day of January in the year 2021,  I spent the entire day seeing the United States of America’s hypocrisy on full display domestically in the most explosive fashion I have ever seen. Not happy with the Presidential election results, hordes of Trump supporters descended upon Washington, DC, the day that Congress is to tally the results of the electoral college state-by-state, and officially certify that Joe Biden will be out next President. Fueled by false claims of voter fraud and outright vitriol, they crowded the National Mall. Then they got belligerent, and tore down fences meant to keep them a safe distance away from the Capitol as Congress conducted business. Then they broke into the Capitol, some reaching the Dias, some invading congress people’s offices. They did this with near impunity, with only a few people outside getting a hint of pepper spray as they continued to break the law. This is a group tantrum that will cost people’s lives by the end of it. It is hard to not make comparisons to things like the New York City Draft Riots when looking at the chaos unfold.

I am sure that people will compare these today’s gatherings and those of the summer and claim that they are the same. They are large groups of people, angry at what they perceive is an injustice, angry to the point that they are willing to disrupt daily business. They are angry enough that they will speak directly and loudly to an elected official. Isn’t that what protest is, after all? It is not meant to be convenient. No one calls City Hall and asks the administrator what time would be good for them to occupy its steps. Both of these protests became violent. Property was destroyed. People were coming to blows. So this is just the other side expressing some anger, right?

Since May (and really, all my life), I have been protesting injustice as much and my mind could take it. Even a global pandemic would not hinder me from standing up for my rights and demanding equality after America showed that despite a global pandemic, It would find a way to murder Black men, women and children in the street, and the killers would go free. First it was Ahmad Aubery, then Breonna Taylor, then Tony McDade, then George Floyd. America would not stop killing us. We were sick of it, and we marched. We sang, We yelled. We cried. We demanded that the city and country do better by us, the taxpayers. Then in Rochester we learned of Daniel Prude, who was killed in the street, naked, with a bag over his head, as police officers stood by and laughed about it. We marched some more. Yelled some more. Cried some more. For our efforts, I got a face full of pepper pellets, tear gassed, and crushed under the boots of police in full riot gear. For marching. And that was just on my birthday. I got off easy, though. All I got were some respiratory spasms and an acute case of anxiety. Many were arrested and hit with felony charges, poisoned from the tear gas and pepper pellets, beaten and bludgeoned and bruised by batons and projectiles that were supposedly not rubber bullets, if we are to believe what the Rochester police say. Remember, this was the response to us marching. Most of the time we didn’t even make it to our destination. The police blocked whole streets armed and ready for war. For marching for equality.

The group in DC is marching, too. But they are marching because they are not happy with the results of the most fair and monitored election in the nation’s history, and that is saying something, because try as they might, many southern and Midwestern states tried to tip the scales as much as they could. The group in DC is marching because they refuse to admit that their candidate lost by 5 million votes, that even the southern state of Georgia turned blue. They are mad, and their losing candidate has been fueling their fire since November, disseminating conspiracy theories and outright lies about the election, encouraging people to rise up against this fictional injustice. Well, they are rising up, punch drunk off of whistleblown vitriol and plain bigotry, ready to hang an elected official if they can…I’m not exaggerating. Someone brought a noose. They got all the way to the Capitol steps, and inside the building. A few people were hit with pepper spray, but they were mostly unscathed.

Do not compare these protests. We are not the same. Their cause is to overturn a fair election that they didn’t like. Our cause was to exist in peace. In our ranks, we had Black pastors, LGBTQ activist groups, Women’s liberation groups, Latinx allies, disability rights groups, housing rights advocates. In DC, they have Proud Boys, a known white supremacist group, confederate flag wavers, right wing militias, outright neo-nazis, Boogaloo Boys. We came wearing masks and tried our best to keep our distance from each other, to protect each other from the virus that had already killed some of our loved ones. Many in DC didn’t wear masks, because the sources of election vitriol also told them the pandemic that had killed so many didn’t exist. We were armed with picket signs that aired our grievances. Though some in DC had signs, some also came with firearms and improvised explosive devices, ready and willing to inflict pain on those who would go against them. When we marched, city officials attempted to placate us with flowery words, but then they sicced the police on us like they were hungry dogs and we were fresh cuts of meat. When they marched, they were invited by the president to come and disrupt the fair counting of the election he lost. He invited the violence that occurred today. When we donned gas masks and padding to protect us from the blows of the police officers we protested, we were labeled as “looking for trouble”. When the DC protesters, descended on the Mall in surplus army gear, they were hardly stopped by police, and some even took selfies with them on their way ro ransack the Capitol. We. Are. Not. The. Same.

I’m sure someone will try to bring up the violence and the property damage that occurred during summer’s protests. They will leave out the part where no violence occurred until the police started shooting us and gassing us. I don’t condone any of the violence that occurred during the summer, but I wholeheartedly understand how someone so frustrated, so beaten down by this system, so powerless would lash out. Beside that, despite the lies that the local police said about protesters throwing frozen water bottles and bricks at them being taken as truth, a lot of the people who initiated the property damage were exposed as outside actors, be they undercover cops or white supremacists. Or both.  So we didn’t even make it to our destination, yet the DC protesters danced inside the Capitol.

I am taken aback today. It is not because of the deafening silence to the right wing detractors who have been berating Black Lives Matter activists and applauding violent overturning of the government if Trump didn’t win the election. It is not because Proud Boys and other wannabe nazis got away with carrying bombs and guns into the nation’s capital and destroyed things with barely a slap on the wrist from law enforcement officials. It is not because some people disingenuously called for calm, even though they’ve been feeding the public lies about the election, demonized Black Lives Matter, and dismissed the threat of COVID-19. I’m taken aback, because I didn’t think I would see all of this on display in one day. I already knew how this would play out, but to see it in real life is another thing. Despite all their efforts, we are going to have a new president on January 20th. And we will still march and demand the government recognize our humanity. I just know how our actions will be received.

About Chris Thompson

(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog he currently writes and regularly posts on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon. Chris is also a regular contributor for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is http://www.chroniclesofnonesense.com

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