Monday, July 25, 2016

What The Brown Shirts Look Like This Time Around. Which Side Are You On?

I went to the bridge on Sunday, as I nearly always do. The usual crowd was there: three artists, a retired social worker who summers in Maine, my husband (woodworker) and I (teacher). Our messages were as follows: NO TO WAR, CREATE PEACE, DON'T BOMB SYRIA, KEEP THE OIL IN THE SOIL, NOBAMA DEPLETED URANIUM = WAR CRIME NONSANTO BIG OIL ENDLESS WAR and BLACK LIVES MATTER Duh. 

Our decade plus of standing on the bridge each Sunday for an hour at noon entered a new phase last week when we were joined by two young men who mounted an aggressive counter protest.

At first one of the young men, who appeared to be college age and was dressed in corporate logo jock-type attire, passed by us on foot. He looked up from his phone long enough to read our signs, then said, "What do you think you're doing here? None of this matters. You're not making a difference," angrily without breaking stride.

I didn't hear what my fellow bridge denizens said to him but I said, "We got your attention though, didn't we."

About ten minutes later he reappeared with a friend of similar appearance and age. He had a sign that said NONE OF THIS SHIT MATTERS  (the arrow was meant to be pointing to us) and his friend had a barely legible, probably hastily made sign that said WHITE LIVES MATTER T@#%P 2016.

The boys then began to engage passing cars by shouting slogans such as "Deport the immigrants" and "Vote for [the demagogue with the bad hair]" 

Abby, always one to engage in dialogue when people turn up on the bridge, began asking them questions related to their messages such as, "Do you want to deport all immigrants or just Mexicans?"

The boys skittered away as if we might infect them and they didn't want to stand next to us, but one replied, "All immigrants." Abby pointed out that immigrants picked the vegetables they ate but they did not seem interested in discussing this. They continued engaging with the people in the cars and ignored us until we began to depart as we always do around 1pm. 

"Ha! You're leaving!" they said, apparently pleased that they had driven us away.

"We always leave at 1," Abby said mildly. They gave no appearing of hearing her.

The first time I stood on the Margaret Chase Smith bridge in Skowhegan, Maine was 13 years ago during the cold days just prior to the "Shock and Awe" attacks on Iraq. I met my future husband there. The bridge was thronged with liberals holding candles protesting what was perceived as George W. Bush's impending war. During the remainder of Bush's term in office we stood there sporadically as well as marching and protesting U.S. wars in many different venues around the state and the nation.

When the photographs of detainees being abused at the notorious Abu Graib prison came out, I was deeply disturbed. (Little did I know at the time that similar abuses were going on at a secret prison in Chicago whose thousands of victims were predominately black men.) Besides writing letters to the editor and to my alleged representatives, I could think of nothing I might do to address my grief and horror. So, I returned to the bridge that Sunday. My husband came, too. 

We stood alone for a few weeks because it was now the Obama administration waging war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and supporting Israel's criminal attacks on Gaza, and Saudi Arabia's vicious attacks on Yemen. Eventually the core group of people opposed to U.S. wars of aggression whether waged by Democrats or Republicans reassembled and we have continued the Sunday protest to this day.
July 21, 2016 in Skowhegan, Maine
At times we gather on other days, too. Just recently on the National Day of Action called by Black Lives Matter organizers we stood with two of our family members plus a retired millworker who is a regular on Sundays, an antiwar activist who summers nearby, a reproductive justice organizer from a nearby town, and a father and daughter who only know me from facebook but had seen the event shared on the Not Your Mascot Maine chapter fb page. 

If all the people who have ever stood with on the bridge were to come next Sunday, we would fill the sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. The 300 or so vehicles that pass by in an hour, plus the pedestrians, would see us as numerous as they traversed the intersection of Route 201 and Route 2, major north-south and east-west highways through central Maine.

I suspect that if the two aggressive youths saw strength in numbers they would hesitate to harass us. Bullies are nearly always cowardly, seeking targets who appear to be isolated and lacking support. I also suspect that if we had left the BLACK LIVES MATTER sign home they wouldn't have responded. Let me just say this now: it will be there every week, from now on.

This is an open invitation to all who agree that black and brown lives matter, and that U.S. foreign policy is deadly, racist and immoral. Even those who believe in fighting "terror" but think bombing Syria is too expensive and would rather fix our crumbling infrastructure or build solar power with the money instead are entirely welcome.

This is what the brown shirts look like this time around. They are emboldened by the open racism of the demagogue with the bad hair being nominated by one of the big corporate parties as its presidential candidate. 

(How did this even happen? Ask the corporate press who promoted his name recognition and, eventually, candidacy relentlessly.)

Will you shelter in place as they come for your neighbors?

It's time to decide: which side are you on?


Diane Meyer said...

If only the 'powers that be' would listen to what you have to say and follow through, our planet would be in a safer place. Unfortunately, power and money are at the root of so many of the world's problems and 'they' will go to any length to see this through. Keep up the good work and bless you for all that you are doing.

Hopie said...

Good one

ms. white said...

I like a lot of these comments, Lisa, but not calling the Trump supporters "Brown Shirts". And I think your tone is a bit bullying when you challenge people to pick a side.

Anonymous said...

from Abby Shahn:
For many years I’ve been standing on the bridge in Skowhegan with several other stalwarts every Sunday from noon to one. We stand there with our signs promoting peace and justice. Lately several of our group has also been carrying signs that say “BLACK LIVES MATTER”. Last week we were joined by a couple of young Trump supporters with signs that said that, “ALL LIVE MATTER”. They were yelling anti- immigrant slogans at the passing cars. It felt a little threatening.
I tried, unsuccessfully to engage them in dialogue. I wondered if they wondered who would pick their vegetables if all the immigrants were kicked out, but I somehow doubted that they ate many vegetables. Anyway, we all left at one as we do every week.
But the event has been lingering in my head, because I agreed with them at some level. I know that their slogan has been used by racists to discount the “BLACK LIVE MATTER” movement but I also think that “ALL LIVES MATTER”. That’s why we’ve been standing on the bridge with our peace signs every week. We don’t like war. Afghan lives matter. Iraqi lives matter. Somali lives matter. Yemeni lives matter. Syrian lives matter. We’re horrified to contemplate the damage and death caused by our American bombs.
To get back to BLACK LIVES MATTER, The reason that folks are emphasizing the lives of black people is that we’ve recently seen so many cases of black people being murdered by police. We’ve seen those crimes go unindicted and unpunished. People aren’t trying to say that other lives don’t matter. Maybe what we really want to say is that BLACK LIVES MATTER TOO.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lisa Savage said...

Thanks for your feedback. I should clarify that I do not consider all supporters of the demagogue with the bad hair nascent Brown Shirts, but the aggressive attitude of these two qualified them as such in my opinion. Their sign referred to us as shit, and they clearly intended to drive us off the bridge.

Not sure why it sounds bullying to you if I challenge people to pick a side? Bullying involves coercion, and I'm not coercing anyone to decide whether to stand up for racial justice or not.

loveEliz said...

Bless you, Lisa. You know, if I could, I would have my body there on the bridge with you. And I would carry a Black Lives Matter because those boys and too many like them believe that their white lives matter the most. I pray and send love to help them understand that we are all in this together. May their hearts be opened and all of us understand how important it is for us to take care of each other and the Earth. War and hate are so wasteful. What you are doing is important and it does make a difference. Stand strong and know we love you.