This past Friday my husband and I attended a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Peterborough. As we approached, we saw three police officers standing around shooting the breeze, watching and listening to the protest. Nervously, but with chins positioned decidedly upwards, we walked past the officers and joined the other protesters.
The rally was run by black people, but people of all ages and skin tones were present, from small native children to a gaggle of particularly passionate elderly white people. One white man showed up with a sign that read “Black Lives Matter to Jesus Christ.” The scene was bleached with July’s dangerous rays, so many of us gathered under one big oak tree, eating watermelon and zucchini bread donated by Food Not Bombs while we waited for the rally to start.
Speeches, songs, and poetry from black and native people introduced the protest. They told stories of racism in Canada, especially of the black community’s experience of Peterborough’s police force. Then, we took to the main streets in downtown Peterborough, getting in the way of traffic with our signs and drums, chanting, “Black and Indigenous Solidarity! Black Lives Matter!”
To give credit to the police, it turns out they were only there to protect us. I think they were actually invited, which is good, because they needed to hear the message. It was kind of awkward and beautiful, and a reminder that though there is clearly injustice in our police system, injustice that needs to be addressed, there is also systematic goodness.
Perhaps, my biggest takeaway was meditating upon the importance of voices. Black voices. Native voices. My voice. Our marching line was long and gap-filled. Sometimes I could only hear my own voice chanting over and over again: “Black and Indigenous Solidarity! Black Lives Matter!” I’m not used to speaking for so long, and about something so serious. To hear myself vocalize something important and controversial, to hear myself take a stand in the streets, to hear minorities speak up about their own conflicts with the society I live in, not to mention the relief and strength I felt when I could hear the other marchers’ voices again – these things made me realize how important our voices are. How important minority voices are. How important it is to fight the urge to shut up and let things be.