Critical Reflections on #MillionHoodies for Trayvon Martin in Philly and NYC
the Red City Renegades | 04.06.2012
In the following writings organizers and agitators from New York City and Philadelphia have outlined some of the limitations and potentials of the Million Hoodies marches that were planned in the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012. A central theme in these analyses is a critique of attempts by the white left and middle-class activists to subordinate the autonomous struggles waged by people of color against the white supremacist racial order. By sharing these thoughts we hope to open up a space for a critical dialogue about what it will take to develop a revolutionary movement in the United States that moves beyond the purview of bourgeois and reformist politics. War to the Palaces, Peace to the Villages.
What of the Souls of Black Folk:
When Trayvon Martin Came to Philly #MillionHoodieMarch
If there be sorrow
let it be
for things undone
to these add one:
We were late responding to the death of Trayvon Martin. I am late writing this. All of the stress, sadness, anger and power to carry on are an art form in itself.
He died February 26, 2012. Maybe it was the shock of this young black boy being slaughtered right in the open. He died so violently at such a young age. I remember talking about it amongst friends and saying, "OMG, what is this world coming to! Black kids can't leave their house in Philly because of the curfew and then they get shot up in Florida for going to the store!" But because of the late response that everyone had, it allowed time to dwell on what happened.
This is a continuation of lynching. This is a continuation of the destruction of black families that has been happening since slavery. A white Latino feeling the need to stalk a young black boy who looks "suspicious" and feeling he has the right to murder him is racism. It is inherently racialized because it is a part of the black experience. It should be presented that way because of the blatant racial violence done to Trayvon Martin, just on account of him being black.
The country was late responding to Trayvon Martin. 4 weeks go by. New York is the first to do it. But now Philly had the chance to mourn the death of Trayvon Martin. Before the march, the #millionhoodiemarch, had taken place, I was hoping for it to show that Philadelphia was physically mourning the death of Trayvon Martin and to address the tragedy behind Trayvon Martin being killed, for reasons like racism, white supremacy and police harassment. Interestingly enough, the #millionhoodiemarch was taking place on the same week of International Anti-Street Harassment Week, and that also was another reason behind Trayvon Martin's death.
The march was beautiful. I had never seen so many black and brown people taking the streets, hoodies up, all there to show support for the Martin family. There was mothers, teenagers, babies, the old, and young people like myself. It was amazing, especially coming from an organizing background in which you see more white people in marches. There were people singing, screaming "all I had was a bag of skittles" and "I am Trayvon Martin," mothers rolling their strollers or holding their babies hand. It was beautiful. I finally was in a march with people that looked like me and shared the same experience of being Black in America. Even better, the event was organized by Black people. So this led me to believe that it was a genuine event that was occurring, Black people taking the streets, angry and organizing around their pain.
When we reached Love Park, there was a PA system that was being set up for speakers to talk about the death of Trayvon Martin and its interconnectedness with the Black struggle. What I first heard coming off the PA system was about voter registration and supporting the president. Regardless of my political beliefs, I thought if they wanted to talk about that, fine, but it didn't relate to the death of Trayvon Martin. A few women spoke of taking back our own black and brown communities, not needing law "enforcement" invading our communities, and how political figures that may look like you are no more likely to represent you than the abhorrent strangers that come into our communities.
What happened next shocked and devastated me. The women were cut short and rushed off the mic. A man came onto the mic and thanked everyone for coming out to the march and staying for the rally in Love Park. He then said, "Imagine if the person next to you, who looked just like you, had a gun...that is what happened to Trayvon Martin." Actually that isn't what happened to Trayvon Martin. Trayvon Martin was gunned down by a white man who did not recognize his humanity and killed him in cold blood. He then went on to say that black people needed to stop killing each other. This confused me, because Trayvon Martin's case had to do with white supremacy, racism and the lack of response from law "enforcement" who are supposed to "serve & protect." He went on to connect this to how Black mothers need to "not have 30 men running through their house" and then wonder why their "12 year old daughters are pregnant." The assault on Black womanhood and motherhood continued with chastising Black women on how they shouldn't have children with multiple men. And somehow, "sitting home, watching 'Basketball Wives'" added to this immorality that Black Women and Mothers have adopted. What broke my heart more than anything else was not that it was a brotha saying this, but that it was sistas in the crowd clapping at what this man said.
What I was thinking while this was happening was: Were we wrong? Was I wrong? Was my Mother wrong for choosing to live the life she lived? For raising her babies the way she did? Am I wrong for praising her and thanking her for how she raised me on her own?
Emotions were running high and tension grew. My friend and I both were already angry about what was transpiring. Out of this anger, my friend called out the man and said, "You are spouting all of this self-hatred to all of these people, when you really should be talking about the real issue here, which is racism and white supremacy!" She was absolutely right, but the crowd did not think so and proceeded to boo my friend and tell her to leave. A man tried to tell my friend to "shut up." He started to come towards her, and I told him to step back, that she was fine and what she said was correct.
I had no idea what was going on and what just happened. The crowd at Love Park just participated in tearing apart the realities of many Black women in America. Was this what the souls of Black Folk in Philly became? Sorrow and self-hatred that is propagated by white conservatives and supremacists and sold back to black and brown people to destroy our souls? What I had hoped for from the #MillionHoodieMarch in Philly was fulfilled in some areas, like seeing black and brown people taking the streets of Philadelphia and displaying their pain as well as their will to carry on through the tragedy of the death of Trayvon Martin. But what I did not expect was the blow to my existence as a black woman, the child of a single black mother, to be torn to shreds and demonized.
What I need from tragedies like this is anger: anger against the people who commit these crimes, anger against the system that forces us to live this way, anger against the history and the present that presents us as victims, when we are really warriors, from stolen lands that are persevering despite the anguish and pain we live with on a daily basis.
The Feeling of Rebellion:
#MillionHoodies Reflections from NYC
By the All City Revolutionary Collective
Last week, the #MillionHoodieMarch brought thousands into the streets, most of them young black and brown people. Together we changed our individual anger and sorrow at the murder of Trayvon Martin into a demonstration of collective outrage and power. Even though the police tried to keep us on the sidewalks, thousands of us spilled out of Union Square and marched for hours all through lower Manhattan. For this, we celebrate! At the same time, we want to identify actions at the #MillionHoodieMarch that kept us from making the most of our numbers and energy, in order to draw lessons for the future.
First, there were several attempts by local politicians to co-opt and lead the march. At one point they even tried to get the crowd to lock arms as they stood in front of the people, while the police surrounded us. We need to be careful of attempts like this, since we know politicians try to co-opt and control movements for their own purposes. The same politicians who blame the cops today, will ask us to vote for a Democrat tomorrow. The same politicians who talk radical when in low-level offices, will act no different than George Bush or Barack Obama when in higher offices. This con game has gone on too long. We don’t need leaders, gatekeepers or spokespeople, as politicians so often try to be: we can lead and speak for ourselves.
Second, there were attempts by fellow protesters to police each other’s actions. After the first march returned to Union Square, the politicians wanted to lead a rally, and members of Occupy the Hood wanted to stay with them. The authors of this statement started chants to march again, and got in a heated discussion with one member of Occupy the Hood, who accused us of jeopardizing the safety of people of color attending the action. We believe safety is a fair concern, but we also need to recognize the self-governing capacities of people of color. Folks took to the streets at the #MillionHoodieMarch because they wanted to; they are not sheep who were tricked. Revolutionaries, the authors of this statement included, at best open the door to mass action. If people had disagreed with the call to march at that moment, our chants would’ve gone unrepeated and nobody would’ve left Union Square. We have to accept that black and brown people can make their own decisions, including militant ones.
We also need to acknowledge the danger of self-policing developing in the movement. Too often revolutionaries, including people of color, get blamed for what might happen to protesters at actions, when the blame for injury or arrests at protests can almost always be placed on the police. (Ironically, some elected officials that night said the police are not the enemy. We ask: who is the enemy then? Why were we policed at the march?) The tendency to blame each other is self-defeating, when we consider that it will require a bigger fight to stop police from murdering people of color. If we are to defeat white supremacy in the U.S, the struggle will have to get hotter. Of course we cannot foolishly take risks. At the same time, risks must be taken. We should follow the example of people of color revolutionaries from the past, get organized, and prepare for them.
Finally, at different points in the night, folks from Occupy Wall Street tried to steer marches to places that were more symbolic for Occupy than for the struggle against racist murder. When the first march circled back toward Union Square, OWS folks called on us to retake the park and bolster their occupation. When the second march reached 1 Police Plaza, OWS folks led us down to Zuccotti Park, and many people went home. Let’s not confuse the situation: the #MillionHoodieMarch was not about Occupy Wall Street. It was about a black man who was murdered by a racist vigilante, and all people of color who have been harassed, brutalized and murdered across the country, including some recent cases right in our own city. We should welcome the participation of OWS in mass demonstrations, but not permit them to put their own interests over the masses of people, particularly black and brown people taking action about issues pertinent to our communities.
Still, we think the #MillionHoodieMarch was a big success. For one night, we came out thousands strong, and the feeling of rebellion was shared among us. From here we need to continue building. It isn't enough to come out each time a black person is murdered, no matter how great the march. It isn't enough to institute police reforms, and make the cops do their job–which is to terrorize black, brown, and working class people–more nicely.
We have to build resistance on our own blocks and in our own hoods!
We have to move on cops, bosses and landlords whenever they attack us, from stop-and-frisks to evictions!
We have to recreate safety in our communities, and prevent our people from taking out their resentment and desperation on one another!
We have to take community control of institutions that can help us!
We have to fight tooth and nail for respect and dignity, and transform our world!
A Tragedy, Not A Token: To Occupy and White Liberals/Radicals
“It is impossible for White Americans to grasp the depths and dimensions of the Negro’s dilemma without understanding what it means to be a Negro in America.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community
I’m going to try and say this as plain as possible.
The Trayvon Martin tragedy is not your experience. Our babies, fathers, mothers, siblings, and friends are stolen from Black and Brown communities every day at the hands of white supremacy, and police violence. This is not an opportunity for you to tokenize a tragedy that is a daily reality for us. Attending rallies, marches, and vigils is appreciated. However, it is not an opening for you to take advantage of all “the positive energy” and the “numbers,” no matter how much you think, “Police brutality! This relates to Occupy SO much!” Don’t do it. Do not.
We’re people, and we’re hurting. My pain, our pain, isn’t a numbers game. Nor is it an opportunity to push your racist color-blind agenda. This means NOT leading marches, this means NOT doing mic checks, this means NOT getting on a bullhorn. This means FALL BACK. Take this as an opportunity to shut up, check your privilege, and listen to what Black and Brown people have to say. This is our experience; we live it, not you.
At tonight’s vigil at Love Park, I got into a heated debate with a white man about why he (or any other white person) shouldn’t lead a march to the nearby police Roundhouse. As soon as I said “white people should not be leading a march from here. It’s not your experience, or struggle to lead,” he said I was being “racist.” Yes, I, a Black woman, was being racist. A person in no position of power was being racist to a white man. Since when are white folks getting shot in the street every day in every city, simply for being white? This man, Jessie Greenberg, went on to tell me that I didn’t know him. And according to Jessie, he experienced racism everyday where he grew up…for being Jewish.
Now, I’m going to need Jessie, and anyone else who doesn’t understand how race/racism operates to stop comparing being Jewish to being Black. White Jews can assimilate into whiteness, they can assimilate into powerful positions, and Black folks can’t. It’s that simple, really. I also pointed out to Jessie the fact that he was there to tell me his story, and Trayvon Martin wasn’t. Neither is Aiyana Jones, Rahmarley Graham, Rekia Boyd, or Ervin Jefferson. All lynched by vigilantes and police, systems maintained by white supremacy.
Eventually, Jessie pulled the white feefees card, and told me to lower my voice (all the truth I’m rapping to him, and he’s concerned about the volume and tone of my voice?). He told me he felt like I was “attacking” him (this here is the Angry-Black-Woman-attacking-an-innocent-white-person complex). I responded with, “White people need to understand that if someone is calling you out on racism, you need to listen to the message, and not be concerned about your feelings.” Derailing someone calling you out on your privilege is NOT okay. This is further oppressive and dismissive. It’s not about your feelings; it’s about your privilege and white supremacist thinking. Everything I say isn’t invalid because you got your feelings hurt. My anger and frustration are justified.
Despite attention that gathered around the heated debate, the march was going to happen. Not, because Black people at Love Park initiated a march, but because members of Occupy Philly wanted a march. I watched Larry, a white man, ask a random Black woman to lead the march, saying, “We’re all gathered at the corner. We just need someone to lead the march!” In other words, we need your Black face at the front of our Occupy agenda. Let us use your hurt, pain, and tragedy as a token. The march took place from Love Park to the Roundhouse (a jailhouse on 8th and Race). When I asked why they were marching a group of Black people off to a jailhouse nobody could answer, only highlighting the privileged, insensitive, and colorblind nature of Occupy Philly (and the Occupy movement). These white liberals and “radicals” would jump ship in heartbeat if it came down to those Black people being arrested for being Black in front of a jailhouse.
White people, we don’t need your “experience in leading marches.” We don’t need you to validate our struggle. We are here, and we are valid without you. You can show support by attending events, checking your privilege, and challenging white supremacy within yourselves and every white person you know. Nevertheless, when you attend our marches, rallies, and vigils do not talk about how “inspired” you feel. It’s not about how you feel. This is about us. And we are not here for your inspiration. Don’t talk about how “beautiful” it is that so many Black people have come together. We don’t need you to find beauty in our passive frustration, hopelessness, and fear. Anyone of us could be next. One of us will be next. This is not “beautiful.” This is tragic. Fall back.