Community Members Come Together to Say #BlackLivesMatter

Community Members Come Together to Say #BlackLivesMatter

On January 21, community members joined in protest and dialogue about racism in Cambridge

  • Posted on: 23 January 2015
  • By: ajustine

Video of Eva Martin Blythe speaking to the crowd at Tuesday's protest event

CONTEXT
Black Lives Matter protests are back again in Cambridge, now with a specifically local focus. The Cambridge Black Lives Matter event on January 21, 2015 began in Jill Brown-Rhone Park in Central Square. A band played energizing music while hundreds of folks gathered together, greeting friends and holding signs. The Black Lives Matter in Cambridge group organized this event, with Stephanie Guirand, Toni Bee, and Abe Lateiner leading the charge in conjunction with many dedicated volunteers and activists.

The event was multi-faceted in its structure, starting with a gathering, a march, die-ins, brief speeches, and a concluding community meal, dialogue, and discussion. The Cambridge organizers modeled some of this structure from the nationwide protests against police brutality, white supremacy, and racism within the criminal justice system. What began in Ferguson as a specific response has become a mechanism for addressing systemic racism in a variety of contexts. This event in Cambridge employed nationally-successful tactics paired with a strategically localized focus. For instance, the die-in for 4.5 minutes is a tactic that has been used frequently since the Ferguson protests began, symbolizing the four and a half hours that Mike Brown’s body was left in the street after he was killed by former officer Darren Wilson. Cambridge is often lauded in the press as a culturally liberal, progressive haven. However, as organizers and participants underscored, racism runs deep here just like everywhere else. Cambridge demonstrators work within the newly-established legacies not only in Ferguson, but in New York City, Oakland, Boston, and beyond.

EVENT RECAP
Physically, the protesters moved from Jill Brown-Rhone Park to Windsor Street and Harvard Street for the first die-in, to the Prospect Street Whole Foods for the next die-in, and ended up in front of City Hall for more speeches before departing for the community dialogue portion of the event held at danger!awesome. Throughout the march demonstrators and organizers yelled a variety of chants, including “No justice, no peace, no racist police”; “What we do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now!”; “Same story every time, being black is not a crime”; “Indict, convict, send these killer cops to jail. This whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

Click here for a video of Toni Bee speaking
Click here for another video of Toni Bee
Video of demonstrators marching
Video clip of marching

A wide range of issues were addressed throughout the demonstration, representing the broad, coalition-focused organizing characteristic of the #BlackLivesMatter protests locally and globally. Bishop Brian Greene of Pentecostal Tabernacle discussed recent violence in Cambridge including the tragic loss of Kensley David in 2014 and the racial disparities he sees every day. He also emphasized the marginalization of the Area 4 neighborhood, specifically calling to attention the isolating, pejorative numbered name “Area 4” (compared to all the other neighborhoods having names like West Cambridge, Cambridgeport, North Cambridge, and so on rather than their Area numbers).

Executive Director of Transition House, Risa Mednick, focused on the need to connect police violence with other forms of violence, such as sexual assault and domestic violence. Eva Martin Blythe, Executive Director of the YWCA Cambridge, spoke about her personal experiences as a mother constantly fearing for the safety of her Black sons. Organizer Stephanie G. spoke to the the urgent need to address gentrification, economic injustice, and the housing crisis in Cambridge. Her personal story of being pushed out of Cambridge, where she had lived her whole life, due to rising rents led the crowd into a spontaneous chant of “Lower the rents! Lower the rents!” Others spoke at different portions of the march and demonstration, including organizer Abe L. who talked about the role of white people in the movement to dismantle white supremacy. The police presence was strong before and during the event, and fortunately officers did not arrest the peaceful protesters. The community meal and discussion at danger!awesome brought the attendees together for reflection, conversation, and mobilization for next steps of the movement locally.

LOOKING FORWARD
Organizer Toni Bee stressed during the event that this was just the “beginning.” The conversations that many in Cambridge have always been having were brought to the forefront and highlighted by the nonviolent demonstration. So many diverse issues and concerns were called on, showing a multitude of ways to engage with the movement. Organizers and speakers stressed that these protests aren’t just about Black lives, but about Black livelihoods. With this urgent charge, organizers made it clear that folks in Cambridge from all walks of life have a unique power and sphere to continue this struggle to dismantle racism. Full of teachers, artists, politicians, religious leaders, parents, and more -- this event stressed the role each of our community members must play in this fight.
The team behind the event can be reached at Blacklivesmattercambridge@gmail.com. Make sure to save the date: the flyer passed out by organizers instructed attendees: “JOIN US FEB. 1 at 4PM FOR NEXT STEPS (LOCATION TBD).” I’ll see you there.

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Anna works at the YWCA Cambridge.