We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest: Reflections on Protesting

by Diana Veiga

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

Two weeks ago, I was at my parents’ house as County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch spent more than enough time than was necessary to announce that the grand jury had decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson. I was in one room, my mother in another, my grandmother in another and we were all watching. We were all mad. We were all sad beyond words. It was a pain that had nowhere to go, one that seemed to just settle in our bones, in our spirit, in our very beings. The pain has not left, and yet it seems that our pain is invisible, because we seem to be invisible. But still not invisible to be protected from being viewed as immediate threats. Still not invisible enough to prevent us from being killed.

I went home and watched the news for a while and then I got on Twitter and saw the photos and tweets about the protests that erupted throughout the nation. I was tired, but I didn’t want to go to bed. I knew the announcement and the reaction was the beginning of something. We have been here many, many times before – but this felt different. The power that is social media, the ability to get crowds out in streets almost immediately after the decision, the fact that people came in droves with signs and songs and pleas for a better world. This was different.

I wanted to weep. I don’t have any children, but I have a brother. I have a daddy. I have cousins. I have uncles. I have friends. Black men who work hard. Who are educated. Who have families. Who have hobbies. Who pay taxes. Who follow the law. But I still have to wonder if this will happen to them. I know they already fear the police, but now the fear has been multiplied and compounded beyond reason or comprehension. Do they too, not sing America?

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

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Following the non-indictment, I wanted to be with the people. I needed to be with the people. I needed an outlet. A place to scream. To share my rage in a space where it would be understood. I come from a family of women who are freedom fighters. My family is from Selma, Alabama and my grandmother, mother, and aunt were on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday in 1965. In a segregated South, they peacefully stood down racist cops and citizens, to affirm their basic rights as human beings that we take for granted today. Their legacy, their contributions to America, fuels me, my work, my desire to see this world become better for my unborn children, for all of our unborn children.

That Tuesday, I found myself near downtown Washington, DC at the “Shutdown Chinatown for Mike Brown” protests, pumped and ready for whatever would come. Having worked for a nonprofit where we mobilized progressive African American pastors around social justice issues, I was no stranger to rallies and marches. However, as we started walking – this one felt different. I looked around and found myself in a crowd that truly reflected the fabric of America. Black, brown, white, Asian – all races and cultures were represented. And more importantly, they were all shouting, “Black lives matter.” I stood for a minute and let it envelop me – the power of the movement. I wanted to weep. I hadn’t seen this kind of solidarity before. We were strong, and mighty, and we took to the streets.

Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers' sons.

As we marched and chanted I also noticed that there were a ton of young people there. I am 33, so I’m not old, but when I say young, I mean high school and college students. This was clearly their movement. It was their time. Of course there was room for everyone at the march, but the energy they brought changed the whole protest. We walked past an apartment building that was still occupied by a majority of Black residents (a rarity for this gentrified part of the city) and elderly Black folks stood on their balconies and cheered us on. The crowd stopped at the building and for a good minute we shouted: Hands up, don’t shoot. The older people in the building joined in. Some gave us the Black Power fist salute.

I once heard a quote, “The civil rights movement is a relay race and right now there is no one to pass the baton to.” That night we proved that this was not true. They could pass us the baton. We would continue the race.

By Black Friday and the Thanksgiving weekend, it seemed like the protests wouldn’t stop as malls, highways, and train stations got shut down across this nation. We kept going. Everywhere. Because in the midst of this “holiday”, we watched video of a 12-year-old child, Tamir Rice, be gunned down by police officers in Cleveland. And then last week,the word came down that the police officer in the Eric Garner murder would not be indicted. The pain from Ferguson, from Jordan Davis, from Trayvon Martin, from Renisha McBride, from Sean Bell, from the names that don’t make the news, but we know them – my cousin, your brother, our friend – was still fresh. Unhealed scars. Hard bruises on top of open wounds. People have been taking to the streets for two weeks now and they will continue tonight. And tomorrow. Through the holiday season. That is the plan.

It is not the only plan, but it is part of the plan. In the midst of protest, you find solidarity, a common voice. You show the world, the people who don’t believe, that we’re not going to take this unjust world that’s been given to us and swallow it whole – without questions, without pushback, without a fight. I was out there last week. I will be out there again. It is in my blood, part of my legacy to fight. It is difficult work. Seemingly neverending work. When do we get a break? I don’t know. Do evil, oppression, and racism take a holiday? I’ve never seen it. I march. I vote. I protest. I write. I rage. I educate. If you’re not out there yet, I hope you will join us. Someway, somehow. We need you. We need your voice. When we work together we prove that:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest.

Ella’s Song

Photo Credit: Diana Veiga

Diana Veiga is a Spelman woman, a DC resident, and a freelance writer. Of course, she’s also on Twitter.

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