We’re in the sun, sitting on a swing on the College of Charleston campus. It’s a beautiful afternoon, and it’s quiet except for the birds and the occasional conversation about the death of Walter Scott. On April 4, Scott, an African-American man, was shot and killed by a white police officer while Scott was running away. He posed no harm to the officer. The murder was caught on video, and the mayor of North Charleston and his police chief took action.
My friend and I talked about the evening of April 9 when several community members stopped traffic on the Crosstown to make drivers recognize the pain and injustice in our community. We talked about April 10 when a big march on campus was followed by a gathering behind the CofC library. We talked about a ministers’ walk on April 12. We talked about what might be next.
“Making these efforts, trying to help us all see what happened and what could make change is so tiring,” said my friend. “But it matters. The fact that a man was killed, that he was African American — it matters to tell people the importance of this, to keep the news from sliding away and being forgotten.”
Since April 4, the world has been paying attention to the events in North Charleston, a senseless tragedy that happens nationwide on a regular basis. White male officers kill black male citizens who aren’t a threat and who are often on the ground.
The need for action isn’t obvious for many of us. One friend referred to it as “accidental activism” — not seeing yourself as an activist but recognizing that change needs to happen. Many of us decide that it’s easier to sit at home and feel sad about the tragic events that happen in the world around us, but others are willing to speak up.
Activism matters. It’s a crucial component to changing our communities and our nation. Activism ended slavery, provided votes for African-American men and women. It’s helping to make rape less and less common, to make earnings for men and women far more similar, and to legalize same-sex marriages. Starting in the 1880s, activists began publicizing and challenging the white celebration of African-American lynchings. That’s still happening. We’re still a culture where lynching happens, as in the case of Walter Scott. But it’s activism that makes that change possible.
I see that this is something important. Maybe something joyful?
“Activism is my self-care,” another friend told me. “It connects me with the community around me,” another friend said. I can see that.
While I’ve marched and called out, one of the fierce call outs we typically use is “Show me what democracy looks like” and the crowd calls out, “This is what democracy looks like!” I’ve heard it since I was a teenager. I remember screaming it for miles in Washington, D.C., and I’ve had the honor of doing it here in Charleston, a year ago when hundreds of us gathered to support of the LGBTQ community. Here we are, a year later, demanding that law enforcement treat African-American men as human beings.
In the midst of the awful shit, we have beliefs and goals and hope. This is what democracy looks like.