Recently, there has been a lot of concern raised around the plan of the Black Lives Matter movement to disrupt the Twin Cities Marathon and I don’t think I’ll have a better opportunity to combine double entendres with offering perspective on this issue and my unsolicited advice. Numerous friends and family of mine have expressed anxiety, apprehension and even outrage over the plan. However, I think what is not being understood completely is the comparative value of the marathon to the lives of black people.
Let me start off by saying that I don’t agree with the idea to protest the marathon, but I do understand it, and the logic is sound. My wife and I discussed this at length last night and she raised all of the arguments I’ve heard: <i>”Why would you do this to people who would support you, you’re going to alienate them?” “I don’t see the point, the runners have nothing to do with this issue.” “These aren’t government or corporate power structures, these are people who have trained for years to do this event and you’re taking away their opportunity to fulfill a personal goal and do something positive.”</i>
In response, let me ask what about the young black man going to school for years, training to be an engineer or tennis player who gets assaulted and/or killed? What about the millions living in abject poverty and shunted through systems because their value isn’t affirmed? How do you compare someone not being able to continue their marathon because of an intentional act by an organized or loosely affiliated group to someone not being able to finish their life because of an intentional act by an organized or loosely affiliated group? How do you hold those two up and call them the same?
Therein, in my opinion, lies the point of this protest: that people’s lives are more than inconvenienced by the lack of affirmation that Black lives matter and the ingrained racism within our society that allows the systemic marginalization and decimation to occur; the point that you don’t get to decide which event gets disrupted, or how this group should protest in a way that is convenient and acceptable to you any more than we, as Black people, get to decide when we get pulled over, beaten, marginalized or shot and scheduled it for a time and way that’s convenient to us. The events and acts that I believe BLM is trying to raise awareness of often come with little warning and cannot be stopped, they disrupt our lives and prevent us from finishing our own races, often through death. We live daily with this concern and fear and even direct action with no choice in matter. The fact that we do not get to weigh in on and decide when racism and brutality will occur is EXACTLY the reason why this protest would happen. It is holding a mirror up to our reality through a lens that the broader community can’t help but see, if they look. We do not get to choose when we are impacted, that is the point, I believe, of the protest.
Again, I don’t agree with the decision to do it, and would not were it my call, but I DO understand why it is being done and for that reason, cannot condemn it. You may not like it or agree with it, but hopefully, now, you understand why someone would do it.
I will not condemn this plan, but I will offer a piece of unsolicited advice to the organizers or those involved. The idea of this plan has raised public concern to a level where numerous public officials are offering to meet with you, and if you do, there will be offers of assistance and suggestions, take them. The major point of protests is to raise awareness and perception and to attempt to gain a voice.
You have one.
You have the key stakeholders, decision makers and gate keepers who have opened their hands and minds to this message. Some because it is politically the best option, but many because they believe in the ideas, value the sentiment and honestly want to help. This is the brass ring as it were because it is an opportunity to not only achieve some of the change you want to bring about, but also firmly secure a political position that is validated and have allies to work alongside you. You will not get everything you want, negotiation and compromise is the very nature of the politics of change, but you will get more done than continually working from the outside and you will lay a solid foundation to continue advancing the issues and working towards solutions in partnership with those who have authority and power, and who may need this connection in order to fully understand and in turn support, the battle which must be won.
Now I can understand there may be some within the movement who will say no: no compromise, no negotiation, no surrender! But that reveals a lack of understanding of how society operates. People come from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and in any given situation, especially ones which challenge ideas and principles deeply entrenched, not everyone is going to agree on everything. To refuse to consider any level of compromise is to be guilty of the same dogmatic practices and positions that have brought us to this point, of course you have to add racism and classism to the mix for the original, but beneath that lies an unwavering obstinacy and refusal to embrace change that you run the risk of emulating if you are unwilling to even have a conversation.
Being willing to negotiate and compromise allows for a broader circle and the construction of an effort or initiative that not only brings more people to the table, but also ensures that the solution has support from a wider set of stakeholders and in doing so a greater audience to promote to and engender buy-in from. It may not be what everyone wants, but it will be something everyone can support and live with, and at that point the second, more powerful component of the battle begins, that of the heart. You see, once you achieve a compromise that everyone can live with, then people have to actually live with it. They have to experience it, they have to be confronted with it in a non-threatening manner and they have to think about it, day in and day out. And when that happens, all of the bluster and rage objections and soundbites fall away to reveal just the truth of the ideas, and that is when true lasting victory occurs.
The idea that Black lives matter, that they have value, that they are equal to all other lives is an idea so simple, so pure and so true, it is a mystery why anyone would oppose it, but there are people who do, and they do it out of ignorance and fear. The more they are presented with a target, the more you try to bludgeon the idea into them, the firmer they will dig in and resist. It is what we do here in America. It is what we’re known for, and we’re very good at it. But you take away that forced compliance, you take away that adversarial tactics, you build instead an agreement, an understanding, a compromise based on shared values that is accepted by leaders and representatives that people know, agree with and respect and all they are left with is the beautiful truth that is intrinsic to so many of us, that Black lives do matter and to oppose this is stand against what is right without some excuse to hide behind or some foil to pass one’s prejudice off to. To oppose this is to admit to world that the problem is not people disrupting races but one’s own insecurities, fears and biases.
And that compels the world to change, not by force, but by choice.
And that, my friends, is the battle won.