Among the many ReclaimMLK actions last weekend was an Anti Police-Terror Project protest at the San Francisco International Airport. There’s a great moment caught on video where a white man tells the assembled group that he will allow them to speak if they stand in a certain place. Protest leader Cat Brooks calmly responds, “We’re not asking your permission.”
Since the weekend’s protests, especially with the Bay Bridge shutdown, there have been a lot of whitesplainers on social media saying that these disruptions were not in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people seem to think that the accomplishments of the civil rights movement happened via polite protesters standing in designated areas with signs and leaflets.
Leafleting has its place, but so does civil disobedience. White supremacy is too firmly entrenched to be dismantled without inconveniencing people. We cannot let white people dictate the terms of our protests. Black Lives Matter is not about white people.
When Monday’s march from Oakland to Emeryville was about to get underway, the announcer stated that only black and brown folks, children, and those who had lost loved ones to police violence should go to the front. Everyone else should march behind the truck. I appreciated this, though I did see a bunch of white folks walking in front. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that some of them didn’t hear the announcement.
This weekend of direct action made me think about the animal rights actions I participated in when I was active with DxE, which sometimes involved going inside stores and restaurants. Some have challenged these disruptions on the basis that unlike in human rights demonstrations, the oppressed are not able to organize protests themselves. I think this is a fair criticism, not because non-human animals are less worthy of protection than humans, but because activists sometimes forget that we are only their allies and proxies, and shouldn’t be held up as heroes or martyrs.
I’m not now opposed to direct action for animals, but I think such demonstrations need to be planned and framed very carefully to center the animals and make the message of liberation clear. And as I’ve written repeatedly, all animal rights activists also need to pay attention to human oppression, both in their messaging and their choice of venues to disrupt.
Regardless of the cause, I’m currently unwilling to participate in any protest that might get me arrested, owing to my trans status among other reasons. But I support others who disrupt, as long as they allow the oppressed to take the lead.