We went to our first Black Lives Matter rally today. I was emboldened by our bishop, Peter Libasci, who went to a vigil last night. He brought with him the stump of the Easter Candle. No one was able to go to the Easter Vigil, because churches were locked down, but he brought a light with him, and shared it.
A friend who was there gave me permission to share these photos:
So today we painted up some signs and went to our local rally, which my husband was covering. I wanted to make a point of being there as a Catholic, so black Catholics could see that they’re not alone. Here is what we came up with (on somewhat short notice):
We brought masks and hand sanitizer and parked several blocks away. We took three cars and arranged a secondary meeting spot if things got hairy. I didn’t expect any violence, but you never know, so we only brought the teenagers, no little kids.
It was a pretty good crowd for our area. Maybe 600 people? I’m not good at estimating. Loud enough to make a real roar when we got going. We were in the commons that traffic was constantly circling, and people laid on their horns and made an enormous ruckus for about two hours. The city we were in, Keene, is 92.07% white, but I saw many more people of color than usual at the rally.
Here is a pic my husband took of me and some of my kids:
The crowd was probably 60% people in their 20’s or younger, but there were many old men and women, and including some episcopal clergy and people dressed like, well, New England rednecks, with ill-fitting tank tops and neck tattoos. Nearly everyone had masks, although the social distancing left something to be desired. A few organizers were walking around handing out masks, and several people walked around offering bottled water.
I saw a few ACAB signs and a few calling for the police force to be dismantled. A few signs were profane and some that were just unintelligible, and seemed to be made by people working out their personal issues with cardboard and ballpoint pen. Most of the slogans were expressions of solidarity, calls for justice, and “black lives matter.”
I was on the calmer side of the commons. We chanted “I can’t breathe” “Black lives matter,” and some call and response: “Say his name: George Floyd” and “Say her name: Breonna Taylor” and “No justice: No peace.”
A sheriff and some police officers were walking around holding signs that said “We hear you.” I thanked one of them, and he seemed surprised.
The only person I saw who was carrying anything that resembled a weapon was this fellow.
He explained that he was there to defend local businesses. His services were not required, though.
A white man kept circling the crowd waving a huge American flag with a Trump flag attached to the back. He was followed by a small group, but one protestor, Keene resident Tay Jennings, who is black, got in front of the others and held them back, repeatedly urging them, “Let him be, let him be.”
I prayed, “Jesus, keep everyone safe.” Eventually the flag man left. When the flag man came around, the police officers folding up their “we are listening” signs and took out their radios. A drone hovered overhead and a helicopter kept circling.
A whiskery old man in a backwards baseball cap cruised around the commons repeatedly, singing — something, maybe sea chanteys and gospel music, and shouting, “Keep it peaceful! Keep it peaceful!” leaving a wake of alcohol fumes.
I couldn’t hear the speeches at all, and didn’t want to get into the middle of the crowd, so we stayed on the periphery.
There weren’t a lot of kids there. One was the four-year-old daughter of Tay Jennings.
Another child held a sign she had evidently made herself, reading, “I’m sorry that George died.”
A white mother carried her black son with a sign that said, “When do I stop being cute and start being dangerous?”
I’m ambivalent about giving protest signs to children.
My sign, “Jesus hates racism,” got some attention from passing drivers. A woman who looked to be in her fifties slowed down and snarled, “Why don’t you get down on your knees and shut your mouth?” I laughed, not knowing what else to do. One other woman had a sneer and some angry response, but several people nodded and called, “Yes, he does!” and one woman shouted happily, “I hate racism, too!”
We left after about two hours. I don’t know how much longer people congregated in the park. I was glad my kids were there to see what there was to see.
Now, we live tucked away far from danger. I want to stress: This was a very low risk, positive experience for us. I understand that many people, for various reasons, cannot participate in rallies, and there are rallies that are very different from this one. But if you are Catholic and if you can speak out, you should, somehow or other. You should let the world know, in a way that makes sense for your station in life, that Catholics reject and revile racism.
And speaking out is not enough. I know that. The whole time, I kept thinking, “This is the exciting part. This can’t be all we do.” It’s exhilarating to stand there screaming “Whoooooooo!” and “Yeah!” while trucks honk their horns and people grin and cheer. But this can’t be all we do.
What else can we do?
Here is a statement from Karianna Frey and Leticia Adams, Catholics who started the #rendyourhearts movement:
We are Catholics, and Catholics of Color, who are exhausted by the continued systemic, institutional, and implicit racism in the United States and at times in our Catholic Church and the effects on the targets of it.
We are broken-hearted for our Black brothers and sisters who for years have been ignored, dismissed, and marginalized by our Country.
We pray for justice for the victims of racism in all its forms, but especially, lethal, and their families and communities. We stand in solidarity with them as Catholic Christians and as Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
We believe in the Catholic Church, founded by Christ, and sustained by the Eucharist.
We are one body in Christ and therefore we have a responsibility to fight against the demonic force of racism.
As such, we invite you to join us in observing a nineteen-day period of prayer and fasting as an act of reparation to God for the sin of racism in all of its forms.
From the Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, on June 1 through June 19, Juneteenth Day and the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we will pray the Prayer to St. Michael for his protection from spiritual attack, and/ or join our Lady of Sorrows in praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and will make daily sacrifices appropriate to our own circumstances for this intention.
This call to action is based on the words of Joel 2:12-13: “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Believing in the longstanding Catholic concept of making Acts of Reparation, my friends @kariannafrey and @leticiaoadams have written this statement.
You can share your own words and/or images using the hashtag #rendyourhearts. You can also participate privately if you prefer.