Note: Names and places are purposefully vague for the safety of those involved.
Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind—even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants. (Maggie Kuhn)
I have severe anxiety. When I started treatment, I found the above quote, and the italicized portion has become a sort of guiding principle in my life. Speak your mind—even if your voice shakes.
I found out about the May 30 protest in my city a day before it happened through social media DMs. The instructions were very specific: do not post the information publicly.
It got leaked. I knew going into the protest that the police were aware. I was terrified—crowds and the knowledge of what could happen are anxiety’s worst nightmare. I went anyway. I had to.
This wasn’t the first protest I’ve been to, but the first one where I needed to protect my identity. March for Science wasn’t dangerous—I didn’t need to worry about getting shot or tear-gassed there. But yesterday we dressed in black, covered our tattoos, wrote the ACLU phone number on several places on our bodies in permanent ink, wore masks and goggles, and carried first aid kits and water. We had to be careful—not only were we doing something potentially (probably) dangerous, but none of our parents knew we were going. In fact, my parents had expressly forbidden me from going. I went anyway. I had to.
We assembled at the courthouse. As we walked into downtown, the police were already out and had barricades up. For crowd control.
The protest was peaceful. We had posters. We chanted.
No Justice, No Peace.
Black Lives Matter.
Say Their Names.
I Can’t Breathe.
Our Words Are Our Weapons.
Everyone was wearing masks—we all knew the risks of assembling during a pandemic, and we were prepared. Parents brought their young children, and I heard one father explaining what was going on to his daughter who couldn’t have been more than five. What kind of world are we building for her?
As we transitioned from the stationary protest and began to march, some of us decided to leave. I had a prior commitment, so I was one of them. As we headed back to the rendezvous point, we handed out our water, medical supplies, and antacid liquid. “Please be safe.” Everyone thanked us and repeated the sentiment. We shouldn’t have to be thanked. We shouldn’t even have to be out protesting something like this. But I went anyway. I had to.
As we walked, I saw an increasing number of unmarked cop cars and undercover cops, so we started zigzagging through the city. There were cops everywhere. We passed another group of our friends heading in about ten minutes out from the protest. About ten minutes after that, we heard a commotion from behind us. When our friends got there, tear gas had already been deployed.
I want to be abundantly clear. Before any destruction or rioting happened, the police had already released tear gas in daylight on a peaceful crowd with children clearly present.
The rest of the information is from live news reports that we watched and the stories of our friends who had stayed. I cannot convey the depths of my horror adequately, but know that no matter what you see on TV, the reality is worse.
There was a minor altercation involving some verbal harassment of the police and some thrown water bottles. The police threw tear gas, but the altercation was quickly diffused by other protestors. No one wanted the situation to get violent. I cannot stress the fact enough—the protest was peaceful.
The riot police were out less than two hours after the protest started. We watched the news reports showing armoured vehicles and SWAT teams entering the protest zone. Protestors were manhandled by the police. Tear gas was thrown indiscriminately, pepper spray and mace used freely. The news reporters were gassed, and even people who were just downtown dining were caught in the midst of it. But perhaps the worst part is this juxtaposition: A friend who was acting as a medic told me that they had to resuscitate someone lying in the middle of the street; meanwhile, the police were authorised to use lethal force.
According to social media, the Proud Boys were downtown. For those who don’t know, they are a neo-fascist alt-right group that the FBI classifies as “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.” Multiple friends have told me that it was white men who initiated the rioting and destruction. I personally witnessed white men verbally harassing the police—indeed, my friends and I were verbally harassed on our way into the protest by white men who were trying to provoke us.
And yet, I look at all the protests going on around the country, and I wonder, Where are our church leaders? I see so many of the people I go to church with posting on social media about how “God loves all His children regardless of race.” I see the overwhelming silence or basic platitudes from the church hierarchs. I see only a handful of Orthodox young adults actually out on the street with me. And I cannot help but notice—Orthodox Christians love to hold up Archbishop Iakovos as a wonderful person for marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. The famous picture of His Eminence marching in Selma gets circulated every year, and everyone pats themselves on the back for being open-minded and progressive.
And yet so few of them will come out and march with us now. It’s time to start putting our money where our mouth is.
See the White Supremacy and Racism section in our Archives 2017-19 and Archives 2020.
Maria T is a young, queer, Greek-Lebanese Orthodox healthcare worker and activist. They hold two degrees in healthcare related fields and are pursuing their Doctor of Pharmacy. They have previously participated in March for Science and advocate for healthcare reform.