Until we are all free, we are none of us free.Emma Lazarus
I am, at heart, an indoor kid. If you know me from the chapter, it’s because I signed you in to a general meeting or responded to an operations question via email; you might know me because the chapter chose me to represent us at the convention last year (I ran on a very indoor-kid platform!). But mostly I prefer to stay behind the scenes: I manage the member list, the slack invitations, the doorknocking turfs, sometimes the newsletter – all of them anchors for the chapter’s organizing.
So first, I’m going to tell you some of the ways that fellow indoor kids (by tendency or by necessity, thanks pandemic) can get involved in the fight for justice for George Floyd, and then – a much more exciting story for most – I’ll tell you about my accidental (and temporary) transformation into an outdoor kid last weekend.
The chapter always needs operations people. There is nothing sustainable without some sort of structure – how are you keeping your list of volunteers? How are you getting new ones connected? How are you signing people up for shifts? How are you protecting all of that data? How are you coordinating resources and communication within the chapter? If the words “we made a Justice for George Floyd wiki” (members-only, sorry, join at dsausa.org/join) make your heart flutter, please go to tcdsa.org/help and tick the logistics box, especially if you don’t mind making phone calls to strangers who are about to become your comrades.
Now: to the outdoor kid stuff.
As soon as George Floyd was murdered, my partner and I knew that we were going to be out on the streets later in the week. After all, infuriatingly, this has happened before – we have lived in the Twin Cities for only five years, and already there have been three major protest movements after a Black man was killed: Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, and now they are joined by George Floyd. And there are other people who have been killed by cops in Minnesota that did not spark a city- or state-wide protest movement, though every single one of these murders is shameful. I knew we’d grieve and march with the same people as always, make the same demands as always, be brushed off by the same spineless leaders as always, and then the energy would die down and we’d have another hashtag to remember.
And then…something different happened instead.
My indoor kid self stayed home on Tuesday while my partner went to the protest. I wanted to go, I felt guilty about not going, but I knew it was the right choice for me, especially if I was going to be useful to keep the momentum for justice alive in the weeks to come. The first thing he said when he got back (after we established that the tornado sirens were indeed going off for tornado reasons, should we get inside?) was “I’m so glad you weren’t there.” Indoor kid, remember?
The next day, a friend reached out and between the two of us, we organized a donation drive using my house as a dropoff point. Donations were and are and will be desperately needed to support the Black and brown and multiracial communities who now live in brand new food deserts. She and my partner picked up food, and water, and medical supplies, and protest gear to bring to a dropoff site in St Paul. Between the six or seven people we gathered supplies from, we had a respectable carload to bring.
But other people had the same idea, and when we arrived at our first dropoff point – shout out to the Minnesota Youth Collective – they directed us to another site, because they were overwhelmed with donations from the generous folks who know right from wrong (and maybe some of them were indoor kids looking for a way to help, too).
When we arrived at the second site, it was immediately clear that there was a problem. A nurse in scrubs grabbed us to say that they were evacuating the site, could we please help move the supplies that had already been brought there. I think my car has never been more full. As we rushed packages of water and boxes of gauze between the buildings and the cars, bangs went off and people scattered – the police firing tear gas (oh hey, did you know that’s a war crime?) and flash grenades at protesters gathered right in front of our building.
The third site, a church, wasn’t open yet. As we waited for the pastor to arrive, we could hear the violence of the police getting closer and closer. We knew we needed to get in and get unloaded and fast, so the medical professionals in our group waiting by the door could help undo some of the harm the police were causing.
That night, we filled that church basement to the brim. We dragged out tables and sorted the supplies that kept pouring in (another indoor kid activity!), and we kept a clear table for medical emergencies that would almost certainly be arriving any minute. We set up a table outside for treating the tear gas a few blocks away, and made probably hundreds of bottles of eye wash. We taped red crosses on to brave medics and we handed out masks and we reminded people to drink water and eat something before going back out. We established a quiet mental health room where people could take some much-needed quiet respite. We were there for hours. Until we remembered that we had a dog, and she was probably hungry, and this was the longest she’d been alone since the pandemic started (oh right, the pandemic!! So not only is tear gas a war crime (as if laws like that matter, since they’re never enforced) it’s also going to make the pandemic worse. Wow, it’s almost like the cops aren’t here for the greater good!). We got home, exhausted, and then my second wind sprung up and I was awake until nearly 5 AM, watching buildings less than a mile from our home burn and worrying about my comrades.
The next day, we rested. This indoor kid does not have the upper body strength to haul around water without consequence. But by rested, I mean: I started putting together a form for volunteers so we could connect them to the chapter projects that had sprung up since George Floyd’s murder. I helped to start the (long, painful) process of articulating a transparent and effective horizontal structure for the new projects. We started identifying shared logistical needs we could take over so that others could focus more of their energy on dishing up food, protecting our neighborhoods, and formulating political demands and direct actions to give our movement teeth. I also mean, I will admit, staring at twitter and various signal chats for hours, once again awake to hear the birds start up around 4 AM. We also welcomed a friend and coworker into our home because her apartment in Minneapolis was too close to the police-incited violence for comfort, because what’s a little COVID risk between friends?
All three of us returned to the church the next day, to see it bursting at the seams. The order we’d nearly imposed on it was still there, faintly, but so were hundreds more bags of donations and dozens more volunteers sorting incoming donations and bagging groceries to go out to those who need them. The proudest I was that day was right before we left hours later, when I figured out how to turn on the ceiling fans in that incredibly hot, incredibly full basement. No, I’m joking, though that was a triumph – every single minute of this I’ve been proud of my comrades and this community for saying: “No. You can’t hurt us anymore. We protect us. This is our home and you bastards need to get the fuck out” – or something like that.
On our way out that afternoon, when my partner and friend dragged me out, I asked “the person in charge” (which largely seems to be “the person who shows up the most and has a bit of natural leadership”) what was needed, that Twin Cities DSA could send people and supplies. She said she needed drivers to move supplies and protesters to and from protest sites that night, as well as, probably, the hospital. She also needed some people to stay at the church overnight, because not only were we being occupied by a heavily militarized police force, we were (and are) also being occupied by a heavily militarized military and a bunch of white supremacists. But I repeat myself. It was credibly rumored that the racists were going to target sites like the church, which had sprung into action to support Black and brown communities and their demands, for violence and arson.
I put out the call, and within fifteen minutes, five of you had volunteered to drive for strangers, after curfew, when it was rumored that the military would be shooting first, asking questions later (they were) and we were being invaded by independent white supremacists here to target people like us (they were). Every single one of you is a hero, whether you drove that night or not.
We didn’t get any volunteers to stay the night at the church. It was, after all, 6:30 – only an hour and a half before curfew began. Making the decision to stay overnight at a place where you could possibly face violence isn’t one to be made lightly, and no one spoke up.
So I did.
I’m an indoor kid, but I don’t sleep anymore, apparently, so I might as well stay indoors, keep my eyes up, work on some of the logistics tasks I needed to do like composing an email to the chapter and finalizing the intake form, and holler if anything looks suspicious, right? How hard could it be? I’m not being asked to fight anyone, because god, that would go badly for anyone depending on me. (I’m working on it.) I knew what I was risking, but I also knew that I could do it, and no one else was.
One thing I haven’t told you is that my partner is a teacher. He teaches at a largely Black and Hmong school in North Minneapolis; he, along with five other full time employees, was laid off due to budget cuts in the upcoming school year. That night, at 8 PM, exactly the moment that curfew began, his students – the ones he hadn’t seen in months, the ones he was likely never going to see again because this city believes in funding people who suffocate us instead of people who teach us – were graduating. He was alarmed by my decision and the fact that he couldn’t be there with me, and our brand new roommate was terrified. Then he remembered that the internet works outside of our house and decided he was coming with me. So we left the dog and the roommate to protect each other and raced to the church to get there in time for him to catch the first speeches of the graduation livestream.
I cannot tell you how emotionally intense the first few hours of that night were. We were celebrating these students’ accomplishments, mourning the fact that their senior year and possibly the next year or so had been warped unrecognizably by the pandemic and the irresponsibility of the government. Every single person in that church was on edge and scared; military helicopters were flying low overhead and every sound from outside made everyone scatter. Except for me, who is apparently a dumbass, because I knew that I was afraid, but I had something to do, and I was going to do it. Eyes up. Deep breaths. We might not be okay, but we know what to do.
I only caught two of the graduating speeches: a student, who said that even though their experience had been hard, she wouldn’t change it for the world. And a teacher, praising every one of those students for stepping up during COVID to support their families, their siblings, their parents who were essential workers, joined by many students who were, too. She called them “instant adults.” I sobbed. These kids were already facing a world that was stacked against them, and then this? Yes, instant adults, but this shouldn’t be necessary. Things did not have to be this way. People made choices and forced every one of these children – already living under racist capitalism – into new impossible situations.
And the moment that was probably the hardest? My partner was telling me about each one of these students as their names appeared on the screen, people who he loved and was unspeakably proud of, people who deserved so much better. He’s one of the best wrestlers in the state. She was one of the first speakers – she’s the one that organized the Econ class to go on strike during the unit on labor history. That guy’s a huge goofball. Look, he graduated! She’s in the National Guard.
She’s in the National Guard.
A teenager, in Minneapolis, a member of the institution that was occupying our cities – what could be going through her mind right now? Was she one of those soldiers out there tonight, when she should be graduating instead? Was she patrolling the streets of her own neighborhood, arresting people protesting the murder of someone who looked like her?
My partner rushed to assure me that she probably wasn’t, but –
The words “it broke my heart” sound trite. But it broke my heart. I hope that she – and every one of the students in the cities – is as strong and resilient as we hope they are. I hope that she is never called on to be an occupying force in any city, anywhere, especially her own, and I hope that she will know that she can say no if she is.
And then I was pulled away again, to construct a flimsy plywood barricade on the stairs in front of the set of glass doors and windows my partner and I were stationed at. As we balanced plywood and two-by-fours, the pastor ran out of the church, screaming “There’s an active shooter nearby! Everyone get inside! Get inside!”
By the time we knew that we weren’t under immediate threat, graduation was already to the X’s (though let me tell you: there are a lot of X’s in a school with a lot of Hmong kids). And then the goofy principal stood with his own diploma, and tossed it off screen, where it was caught by another student, who transformed into a graduate, and tossed it off screen, for more videos that these kids got to make themselves that expressed their authentic personalities in a way that no graduation I’ve ever seen has done. It was so beautiful.
The church wifi died about three quarters of the way through it.
The rest of the night was…anticlimactic. Thank goodness! We worried for a bit about a car that was slowly circling the church multiple times before realizing that it was the elderly security guard, who had been there all day and was, I think, volunteering his time overnight to make sure the church and the people inside it were not alone. We made up stories about the bunny that kept wandering outside – probably for the best, most peaceful night of his life. Someone sat on their keys and set their car alarm off, which nearly set off an evacuation because that was the agreed-upon signal from the watchers outside that something was wrong. I raged at the military helicopters that flew over us, rattling the whole church, and the fact that our fucking governor had the fucking gall to call this “the forces of goodness and righteousness.” What a goddamn disgrace. It was a good way to pass the time, though, speculating about whether it was the tear gas that was the goodness and the rubber bullets that were the righteousness, or the other way around? Maybe the goodness was targeting medics for physical attacks and arrest, or was it targeting journalists instead? The world may never know! Tim Walz, you should be ashamed of yourself.
My partner finally fell asleep with his head on my lap around 4 AM. When the sun came up, and the birds were awake, we decided it was time to go, too. Curfew lifted at 6; we left the church at 5:30 and fell straight into bed.
I’ve largely tried to maintain that pattern since then: one day out, one day in, both days working hard to make sure that we don’t let this fight fizzle out. There is so much to do. Please: join us. Whether you’re an indoor kid or an outdoor kid or something in between, we need you. Black lives matter.
– Anne B.