The BLM flag attached to the car window ahead of me was threadbare from waving. As I drove through East Chicago, Indiana, neon “Roadway to Citizenship for our DREAMers,” “Stop Gary Airport Deportations,” and “545” signs taped to my car, I thought about how each 2020 protest caravan I’d attended had been different. The first, a Black Lives Matter funeral procession, which passed a police officers’ banquet, had garnered much attention from Blue Lives Matter counter-protesters. Horns blaring, yelling, and cursing pervaded the air. I could feel the hate lining the streets of our route, American flags hoisted, as though the right were somehow patriotic and protesting for justice and equality was not.
The next caravan was the first of two “United Against Racism” events, this one located in Gary. Even though it wasn’t a funeral procession, it felt the most like one. The weather mourned countless Black lives lost, Breonna Taylor lost, emotions running as heavy as the storm clouds while we near-silently wove through overpoliced, underserved neighborhoods, residents coming out to watch and cheer us on.
The second such event entailed hazard lights blinking and a morse code of beeps: … —… as the theme song of our interlacing of police department and Harbor blocks. Determined. Hopeful. When I returned home, I tried to peel my protest signs off of the car carefully as I’m growing tired of making new ones and know I will need them again.
In ways, my life experiences prepared me for activism. And, as a writer who believes in writing as a high-level agent of social change and who increased my creative output with that intent in mind, I felt I was doing my part. Then, Trump was elected. My bestie and I soon found ourselves taking my teenage daughter to the first Women’s March on Washington, D.C. We ended the day with a poetry reading hosted by Split This Rock. There, Sarah Browning said the words I knew to be true but in saying aloud made real for me: “Writing poetry is no longer enough.”
In Spring 2018, a young politician and activist, Brandon Dothager, whom I’d met a week or two earlier at a poetry slam I’d hosted as a town poet laureate, came to my house and recruited me into a new local community, that of Progressive Democrats, which I have since proudly played a very minor role in helping to foster in Northwest Indiana.
Now, here it is – Election Day 2020, the day we’ve been waiting for — the fate of our nation never in greater peril. We hold our breath. We eat Tums like gummies. We try to stop our heartbeats from breaking through our chests…
The thing is, no matter the outcome, even when we do pry Trump’s fingers from the White House fence, I’ve heard tell that many individuals will snap back to their pre-activist days like a twanged rubber band. But we can’t. We simply can’t.
I would love to simply bounce back to life as just a writer and professor! (It sounds so freeing — the time gained, the world weight lost.) But these four years have shown me that whether the issue is new-ish or a hideous centuries’ old thread that has been sewn into our country’s tapestry, there is so much wrong, so much that needs to be done, so much that our Millennials, Z’s, and Alpha’s need to have a future that they deserve — instead of the one that we are misguidedly handing to them on a plastic platter — that I’ve realized I’m going to have to be an activist for the rest of my life, gaining political knowledge and speed as I go.
Our societal situation is not unlike the sole issue of feminism in that the second we turn our backs strides will be lost. And now, tragically, we have many steps to regain just to reach the point where we can start to make progress again. Many people have likened recent events to the civil unrest of the 1960’s. Only this time, we are ready, and we need to carry the momentum into penetrating and permanent change.