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Opinion: When a movement loses momentum

Dec 8, 2020 | Editorials | 2 comments

//Protestors stand outside the Colorado State Capitol during a Justice for Elijah McClain protest Nov. 21. Photo by Richard Muller | chard.muller.13@gmail.com

On Friday, Nov. 20, the city of Aurora welcomed the grand opening of its first In-N-Out Burger, and people in Colorado lost their minds. The line of cars for the drive-thru was estimated to be two miles long and the average wait time for a bite of that thick and juicy Double Double was between 12 and 14 hours. The police were brought in to direct traffic and a fight even broke out, causing one man to lose his pants. When I drove by the restaurant on Saturday and Sunday, the line looked just as bad. What people wouldn’t do for, in my opinion, a mediocre burger and fries. But I’m a Fatburger type of girl myself.

On the same weekend that In-N-Out fans waited anxiously for burgers, a protest for Elijah McClain was held by the Party for Socialism and Liberation-Denver. When another journalist was unable to cover the event I volunteered right away. My kids grew up in Aurora. They’re all around his age. I have five. Some are a little older and some are a little younger. Elijah McClain’s case was close to home. So I wanted to be there.

The turnout was OK. About 400 people showed up to support PSL’s continuing efforts to see the cops involved in McClain’s death held accountable. But I couldn’t help but be disappointed. How is it that a burger joint can get what was probably thousands of people to show up and wait 12 to 14 hours for a meal that will be gone in minutes and won’t likely be that memorable? But when called upon to show up for justice, where are the crowds? 

McClain was a human being. Treated as less than that by the people who were supposed to be protecting him. When it came down to it, most of us would rather spend our time supporting a burger franchise than devoting three hours to showing the police and politicians and everyone else, that what happened to McClain was wrong and we’re never going to be OK with it.

I’m not any better. I planned to check out In-N-Out Burger with my oldest son, who had been living in Los Angeles for the last six years and just moved back to Colorado. We were ready to jump on the burger wagon too.

When the protests began in May it was as if a season of reckoning had come. Everyone was ready to get out of their houses and apartments and make some noise. And it was for the best reasons. It was worth the risk of COVID, of tear gas, of rubber bullets and of being arrested. 

They came out mad. They came out strong. And they came out in numbers. Coloradans were determined to show their love and support for McClain and his family, and their disappointment and anger at our police force.

On June 27, thousands filled Aurora’s municipal center, according to the Denver Post. On July 3, 9News reported that more than 600 demonstrators assembled outside the Aurora police department to demand justice. On July 12, around 200 people brought their vehicles to a car protest. On July 25, around 450 protestors marched from the Aurora Police Department to I-225 to stand in solidarity in demanding justice for McClain.

Personally, I’m awed and impressed by everyone who made it out to any of these. I have mad respect for all of them. But numbers don’t lie. The protests have become smaller and fewer. There could be many reasons for that. A lot of people who were stuck at home have gone back to work. This year there have been protests where people were run down by vehicles, shot at and even killed. Those still brave enough to want to fight the good fight might be stopped by their loved ones from going out. COVID cases have been on the rise, making the idea of large crowds more dangerous than ever. The novelty has worn off. And finally, people are tired. Especially Black people. 

Ashira Campell attended the protest on Nov. 22. with her mother. She attended most of the protests in Denver and Aurora this year, as well as the March on Washington in August.

“I would say that African Americans as a whole, we’re tired,” Campbell said. “Especially our grandparents, our elders in general, they’re just tired of fighting and seeing the same thing over and over.”

And that’s understandable. Black people have been fighting a hell of a long time for justice that’s been slow coming. They also deal daily with the struggle of being Black. I have two children who are half-Black. Their experiences of everyday life are very different from my kids who look more white and even my child who is mostly Mexican. My older son has an ambiguous look that allows him to pass for different races, but he cannot pass for white. He’s told me and his friends that he is tired. He’s tired of having to explain Blackness. He’s tired of having to excuse other people’s ignorance. He is willing to march again for the cause, but it wears him down more and more.

Unfortunately, even after all the sweat, tears and literal blood that have been shed this year, we’re still a long way from where we need to be. That’s got to be frustrating. The city of Portland has been protesting for more than 130 days. And they continue to protest because systemic racism is still here. It hasn’t budged an inch. 

PSL leader Joel Northam said at the Nov. 22 protest that he’d read a tweet about how Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election, so the 2020 George Floyd uprising is over. 

“Which is funny, because as far as I know, there still hasn’t been justice for Elijah McClain,” Northam said as the crowd agreed. “As far as I know, there are still hashtags, new hashtags every week. As far as I know, there’s still killer cops walking on our streets.”

He’s right. The fight isn’t over. Several states and cities, including Denver, have banned chokeholds. It’s literally the least they could do. But this fight is so, so far from over. Protester David Smith, who is white, said that he was determined to see the situation with Elijah McClain through, whatever that looks like. 

“I can understand why people are tired,” Smith said. “I came in later than a lot of people too, that’s why I have more energy. I think that’s the game the authorities try to play. They try to wear you down until they’ve exhausted the family and the public involved.”

And it appears to be working. The soldiers are wearing down. Their armor is chipped and broken. Their feet drag as they march, and their shouts for justice have become weak and hoarse. I hope they keep going though. No matter how small their numbers shrink. Or find some way to elicit new energy for the long fight ahead. Protestor James Rotten sent out the call for people to continue to get out there.

“Get out here in the streets,” he said. “No matter what color you are. No matter what your identity. You’re needed in the fight against racism. Racism harms our whole world, every person in it…except the bourgeoisie.”

The burgers can wait. Right now, Black people need us more.

For Maria’s story on State Rep. Brianna Titone, click here

2 Comments

  1. Linda Kazazian

    Maria, I really enjoyed reading your article. You clearly conveyed your message about Black protesters being tired. That the In-and-Out opening attracted more attention than the Elijah McClain protest is an example of the exhaustion felt by many protesters.

    People get tired when their protests do not produce results. Minority groups have been treated unjustly for years. It is exhausting to keep the momentum going.

    Your article serves as a reminder to not give up.

    Reply
  2. Cametria Hill

    Phenomenal and so well said.

    Reply

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