Photos, Protest — July 16, 2016 at 7:36 pm

PHOTOS: Netroots Nation attendees join #BlackLivesMatter activists in shutting down a highway in honor of Michael Brown


You can kill a revolutionary but you can’t kill the revolution.

All photos by Anne C. Savage

This afternoon, as I was sitting in a Netroots Nation 2016 panel titled “Rejecting the Pale, Male and Stale Leadership Pipeline: Roadmap to Building Inclusive Orgs”. Suddenly, a group of young, mostly African American activists burst into the room carrying a spay-painted banner that read “Fight back”. They told us they were marching to meet a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown St. Louis. They went from room to room, including the “Townhall” area where the booths and social area were located, encouraging attendees to join the protest.

Anne and I joined the march which went through the middle of town chanting and doing call-and-response and met up with another group of protesters near the famous St. Louis Arch. From there we continued to the entrance ramp to Interstate 64.

We marched up the ramp to the highway and proceeded to block traffic on the highway for around 20 minutes.

A white motorist calls the police as a protester looks on during the shutdown of the highway

Activist Kayla Reed from Organization for Black Struggle keeps marchers in line and focused

The highway shutdown ended with four and a half minutes of silence, the amount of time Michael Brown lay dead in the street after being murdered by police in Ferguson, Missouri:

Click image for a larger version of this panoramic view of the moment of silence for Michael Brown

The peaceful protest then returned back down the ramp, and marched back to the America’s Center where the convention was being held.

Tara T., St. Louis activist and protest organizer from the group Hands Up United

At the convention center, St. Louis activist Tara T. from the group Hands Up United and others made speeches using a bull horn. They challenged Netroots Nation attendees to be real advocates and allies for the Black Lives Matter movement and to seek ways to make that support felt in their own communities.

Here is a sampling of what they had to say. First, here’s Tara T.:

We’re here at Netroots Nation which is liberals and progressives and all the things that we love, right? Except for y’all that here, I’m kinda preaching to the choir. But tell all your Netroots friends that come here and come to Phoenix, that go to wherever they go, and do not go out into the streets to talk to, speak with, and hug, hold, love people from the community of which you have infiltrated. You are becoming occupiers. You are becoming the very thing that we are fighting against. When you come here, you don’t realize that organizers from the ‘hood can’t afford to pay to come here for your convention and you if never leave the America Center which is also a celebration of slavery, that’s problematic. If you stand for me the way you claim to stand for me, that’s problematic.

All of you who marched with us, we appreciate you greatly. But talk to your Netroots friends. Because we’re in this space and we’re progressive or liberal or whatever other words you want to use, that don’t mean we can’t learn from each other. Everything is a learning opportunity and we should take this as such.

Also, I want to talk about the real difference between our presidential candidates. A real, honest, serious look at the difference between the candidates that are running for president in these un-United States of America. You all need to take a real good look at the difference in politics. I have been a feminist since before I knew that that was a real thing, since before I knew that that was the word. So, you can’t come to me and say that because I am not a fan of the female that is running for president, that I am not a feminist. I’ve been rockin’ these ovaries for a long time, we are tighter than tight, these ovaries. You can’t call me anti-feminist. You can call me a realist.

You need to be honest about what is happening in this country. You need to ask questions. You need to think about why every time that somebody who looks like me is gunned down in this country and y’all start making noises, why there’s a mass shooting that follows immediately. You need to start asking yourself some really hard questions. Like I said, you can do it in your confession booth, you can do it at home, have a little “come to Jesus”, but you need to really think about how much better one is than the other. And it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be challenging. There’s gonna be a lot of easy blackness being challenged within ourselves. There’s gonna be a lot of comfort, a lot of imperialistic, colonialistic, a lot of shit that is innate in us because we’re born in this capitalist system. You’re gonna have to challenge that. And you’re going to have to challenge that with yourself before you can tell anybody else to challenge that. So everybody with your little badges, y’all go home and have some real, hard, serious conversations with yourselves and your families and your friends. And it’s not going to be easy, I’m here to tell you right now it ain’t going to be easy. But what the hell we’re fighting for has ever been easy?

Here’s St. Louis activist Tef Poe, also from Hands Up United:

I just want to say there’s a lot of misconceptions about what we as people want from this country. I think I can speak for most black people when I say we don’t want shit from y’all. We want what God already gave us. The reality for us is we’ve been living in Donald Trump’s America. I grew up with all my homies being mass incarcerated by the same people we’ve got the option to vote for right now. My mother lost her house in the housing crisis when the same people that are running for office right now were in charge. There ain’t no illusion about this shit for black people and other minorities in this country. There’s no illusion about it. We can’t vote this stuff off us. We need a real, actual, full-time political revolution. I can’t tell you what it will look like. I can’t define that for you. You gotta define that for yourself. And that’s what this is about, we’ve got a personal journey. What are YOU going to do to stand up when you know you’ve got some shit in you that you gotta challenge in yourself?

I’m gonna keep it real. We as men gotta challenge shit that we know we’ve go to purge from ourselves. We’ve gotta stand up and purge that shit. We’ve got to have more and more real conversations. We’ve got to have them, y’all.

But this is about action, this is about moving forward. It’s not about a bunch of theory going into the fucking cloud and watching it drop down and go along on the plane with a click of your toes and landing on your laptop. Because as you fly over these communities, people down here are dying.

And we don’t have no misconceptions about same sexuality. We see violence to the community, violence from the police, it’s all a part of black genocide. And it all comes from the same people. The guns, the dope, the murder; it’s their murder, it’s their guns, it’s their dope and they end up in OUR community.

You ever heard of Ronald Reagan? You’re scared to death of Donald Trump but we survived Ronald Reagan. That’s what we do, we survive. And we’re going to keep surviving. And we’re trying to teach the rest y’all the same thing because it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets a lot better because we’re standing up. This ain’t gonna stop. This is not going to stop. They can lock us up, they can gun us down, they can vilify, they can do whatever. You can kill a revolutionary but you can’t kill the revolution.

The entire event was well-organized, well-executed, and peaceful. The St. Louis police monitored the situation but kept their distance without interfering. In a conversation with one cop afterwards, he told us that they had to have a presence because if something had happened and someone got hurt, they needed to be there. They faced being accused of not caring otherwise. But he commended the protesters for being peaceful and respectful.

Perhaps it was the presence of large numbers of white people in the crowd. Perhaps it’s because national media was present for the conference. But, for whatever reason, on a hot day on a busy highway, both protesters and cops in St. Louis showed that peaceful, powerful, effective protests do not have result in violence.