The day started like a picnic at Hamline Park, with people saying hello to old friends, kids running around, and people painting last-minute protest signs. Okay, maybe family picnics don’t usually have protest signs, but the family feeling was definitely there. Old people, young people, black people, white people, Asian and Native American people, queer people, straight people, trans people, lots of Unitarians and seminarians in clerical collars, babies in strollers and people in wheelchairs.
Then we slid into the standard schedule — speeches, a little chanting, admonitions to keep everything peaceful, more chanting, and finally moving out onto Snelling Avenue to march to the Fair.
Take down Babylon,
Black people are da bomb,
We ready. We coming.
We ready. We coming.
Why, you may ask. Why the Fair? Maybe because the Fair is the Great Minnesota Get-Together, and it should not exclude black Minnesotans. And it does.
Fair officials say they don’t ask the color of applicants for vendor licenses, so they can’t possibly discriminate. In a society permeated by institutional racism, that’s not true. Look around you at the Fair. I did. Vendors and workers are disproportionately white. “Admitting you have a colorblind policy is admitting you don’t care,” said one of this morning’s speakers.
#BlackLivesMatter was launched by three queer black women in protest over the Trayvon Martin killing, and grew with their participation in the Ferguson protests over the police killing of Michael Brown. Their contribution was honored at this gathering, which also included speeches by API (Asian and Pacific Islander) supporters and Native Americans, in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter.
Turn it up, don’t turn it down;
We doing this for Michael Brown.
“This ain’t just about the State Fair — it’s about the bigger picture,” a speaker said. That means economics as a basis for justice, and attention to all the racial disparities in Minnesota — in the criminal justice system, in employment, in education, in health, in housing. Specific demands from this gathering include a Department of Justice investigation of the police killing of Marcus Golden in St. Paul in January; body cameras on all police officers; requiring police officers to carry their own individual liability insurance; dropping charges against the MOA #BlackLivesMatter protesters; and representation of African American and other minorities at the State Fair.
Marching down Snelling Avenue, we were flanked by police with bicycles, preceded and followed by police cars closing the street. As we approached the fairgrounds, mounted police appeared, too. A drone flew overhead, monitoring the march.
Marchers included people of all races, visibly affirming the speaker who said, “This ain’t just a black thing — it’s a people thing.” As #BlackLivesMatter founder Alicia Garza writes:
“#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”
The march and protest were peaceful. Of course. That’s a commitment reiterated throughout the day, and throughout the movement. We went to three Fair gates, each of which was shut down before the march arrived.
Who shut it down?
We shut it down!
Along the way, drivers on the other side of Snelling honked horns or pumped their fists in salute. On Como Avenue, busloads of Edina students and band members called flashed peace signs and joined in chanting, “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” Women at tables in front of the Muslim American Society waved and smiled. Positive responses far outnumbered the one angry man at Snelling and Como and the few angry hecklers shouting from inside the fairgrounds.
At Hamline Park, before the march began, one of the speakers said, “We have got to stand up and take the streets because that’s the only time they pay attention.” In the end, that’s why we march, and why the marches will continue.