Reflections by Daryl Grigsby on the violence against peaceful protesters that took place at the August 9th racial justice march in downtown Nevada City.
I’m sitting here listening to Aretha Franklin sing Marvin Gaye’s lovely ‘Wholy Holy’ – along with the Southern California Community Choir; recorded 1972 at the New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. If you get a chance listen to that whole album – ‘Amazing Grace’. Only thing better than the CD is the video by the same name. ‘Precious Memories’; ‘Climbing Higher Mountains’
Sunday night I had the privilege of basking in the spiritual vibe and atmosphere created by Melina, Delgado (ok man i dont want to mess up your 1st name!), and Michelle. Our Sunday night zoom meeting was a spiritual banquet of deep breathing, song, prayer, meditation, poetry, reflection and sharing. A true Beloved Community, envisioned by John Lewis and Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker – radiated off the screen.
Some left the call at 6 to attend the Sunday night peaceful march for justice in downtown Nevada City. I didn’t attend, as we had out of town guests arriving at the same time.
The next day – basking in a mellow vibe in my favorite downtown Grass Valley Bookstore – the Bookseller – my friend (yes they are friends because I’m there all the time!) said, ‘Im really upset about what happened last night in Nevada City.’ I said, ‘what you talking ‘bout?’ She said, ‘look at the video.’
Burly white men with American flags and Trump shirts blocking the street; pushing, punching and shoving peaceful marchers, screaming and foaming at people to get out of ’their town’, free use of N——, F- u, F-this, F- that, F-ing this, F-ing that. My words dont do it justice.
A friend of mine who owns a shop downtown told me he’s been in marches for the last 40 years – and had never seen such hate and violence. All reports are the group came looking for a fight, ready to fight, and were all willing to commit acts of violence against a peaceful demonstration.
The images sickened me.
I immediately contrasted the faces filled with rage and the balled up fists and the American flags used as weapons – with the prayerful, spiritual, loving BIPOC meeting held just one hour earlier.
But – here are my thoughts. Racism is, and has always been, a Resilient Demon. Whenever you think it has diminished, it has only gone into hiding, adapting to new condition, contorting into a new manifestation, and ready to strike back in new and frightening ways. Every single movement toward justice and democracy and equality in America has been met with harsh repression and a counter movements of white supremacy.
A look at history and you see how black progress is ALWAYS met with white Repression. Reconstruction, where black legislators passed laws that aided poor whites more than any passed by the slave oligarchy; was overthrown with violence and massacres. Black Wall Street in Tulsa and black labor gains in East St Louis were met with murder, rape and mayhem. The progressive unifying actions of Black socialists in Harlem and Alabama were destroyed by frantic anti-communist impulses. McCarthy and the Cold War was just an excuse to destroy all black progressive movements of the 40s and 50s. Black soldiers who fought in the World Wars were met with lynch mobs to destroy any thought of equality they man have entertained after risking their lives for the country.
The great Paul Robeson, one of the most talented humans on the planet; who sought a just world for everyone, was destroyed by the white power structure – revoked passport, cancelled concerts, FBI spying. It goes on and on. Civil Rights was met with Nixon’s ’southern strategy’ – which basically turned the entire ’solid south’ from Democrat to Republican; and deliberate actions to play on the fears of white voters.
Black Power was met with the War on Drugs – which turned into the War on Black People and ballooned the US imprisoned population from 300,000 in 1980 to 2 million in 2000; 40% of those imprisoned being black Americans (who by the war are 15% of the population, and who use drugs the exact same rate as their white counterparts). In the 1990s, mass incarceration imprisoned more black men in America than the total number of Chinese in Chinese prisons or the total Indians in India’s prisons.
The Black Panther Party was countered with Hoover’s COINTELPRO and police raids that killed people like Fred Hampton as they slept. Affirmative Action, a minimal effort to build a more just society, was overturned by cries of ‘unfairness’ and ‘colorblind.’ (my Chicago Pastor, Rev Clarence Hilliard, used to say, ‘white people talk about they dont see color, but somehow they never accidentally end up going to a black church or living in a black neighborhood or going to a black college.’
The ultimate recent example of white reactionary repression – was how this nation followed the hopeful election of Barak Obama with the hate filled visceral bullying divisive election of Donald Trump. We have gone from a President who sang ‘Amazing Grace’ at the funeral of black church goers – murdered by a confederate flag wearing racist – to a President who spews daily insults to people of color and does all he can to exploit white ignorance and fear to encourage violent backlash. It does not matter that Obama objectively helped white workers far more than Trump ever has – all that matters is you have a president who sanctions and glorifies white supremacy.
Given that history – it is no surprise we are seeing the kind of reaction we are seeing now. Frankly – I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner and more frequently. Our nation, our state, our county, holds a pent up reservoir of racial hatred – that is not just words – but is manifested by violence.
And here’s what sad. The men who violently punched, pushed, screamed and shoved – dont have political or institutional power. They dont own corporations, they dont run governments, they aren’t police chiefs, judges, or holders of economic or political clout. In a way – they are a diversion. As horrendous as their actions were – they aren’t the ones who need to change lending policies, medical policies, hiring practices, criminal justice systems, educational systems – to create a more just America.
We all need to keep our eyes on the goal. We can’t tolerate the bullying violent racists on Broad St; there should and must be a concerted effort to have a society were peaceful protests aren’t met with violence. but they aren’t the end of the struggle – at the same time we need to focus on those who make the laws, uphold the laws, make the loans, hire the people and set the policies.
And here’s one more thought I need to share – imagine if a group of black men blocked a rally; pushed and punched and shoved and screamed obscenities; and threw white women on the ground – would they have been escorted away with police escort?
John Lewis left us a marvelous legacy of perseverance, courage, commitment for us to emulate. ‘When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state, it is an act, and each generation must to its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world at peace with itself.’
Love does overcome hate (though it dont seem like it sometimes huh?), Peace Justice and Nonviolence and Equality are possible (also seems elusive – but Lewis never gave up – nor should we.
Lets keep that spiritual strong courageous vibe that was so tangible and powerful at our sunday night BIPOC meeting. What a contrast? who would have thought that the love emanating from our Sunday night meeting would be met with hate and violence? But the resilient demon and beast is among is – it has not gone away – and our struggle is long and difficult – and we do have the strength and the community to walk in the shoes of not only John Lewis, but Delores Huerta, Fannie Lou Hamer, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Angela Davis – and all those who struggled for a better and different world.