Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Snow Days for Advocates?

Snow covering a lantern and a tree with pink blossoms.

Yesterday afternoon, my activist daughter and I talked about the triple-guilty verdict in the Minneapolis trial of Derek Chauvin yesterday. I was in a mental place of expressing relief for a verdict my cynical heart had predicted to go the other way. She was in a place of continuing the fight for justice. She asked me (this is my paraphrasing of her question), “What difference does this verdict make in our actions? There is still so much to do.”

She’s right. We still live in a broken system overshadowed by oppression and white supremacy. But I tried to describe how on-the-edge this has felt for mom-friends with Black children. It’s hard for me to explain it when I can’t experience the depth of their anxiety myself. But I do know a thing or two about the draining long-term effects of activism.

Snow Days for Advocates

Snow upon pink spring blossoms.

It hurts to advocate for years and years on a thing that never really seems to change whether you're working on climate, tuberculosis, or gun violence. It’s even worse for my friends who feel real and active fear when their Black children are quickly growing into Black teens. I tried to make a comparison that a major trial verdict like this is like a Snow Day for advocates. Remember that feeling when you have a ton of schoolwork, but then you wake up one morning to heavy snow blanketing the ground? When you hear that school cancellation announcement, you KNOW you’re still responsible for all the work. But for a few hours, you can lay aside your burden and not fight that particular fight.

Snow on a blossoming tree against a
pine tree in the background.

A Killing Frost

As I said those words, a rare St. Louis April snow fell amidst our spring blossoms. The Snow Day seemed like a suitable metaphor. Then, tweets started coming in from Ohio about the police shooting of 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. They reminded me we weren’t even a week away from the killing of Daunte Wright by a police officer at a traffic stop in Minneapolis. It changed the way I looked at the snow on the flowers. Suddenly, it seemed more like a killing chill threatening the beauty of progress in the season.

I sat watching the quiet, falling flakes. The hopeful thought entered my mind that the snow might indeed kill those blossoms, but it won’t kill the trees. Their roots, like the grass on the lawn, run deep. There’s a reason we call activism from regular folks “grassroots advocacy.” You can mow the grass down or you can freeze the blades. But if the roots are deep and healthy, grass will come back again and again. Some movements are young and fragile, like the young pea shoots in my backyard garden. We must nurture and protect them, so they can later withstand the coming heat of summer. (I covered the peas up with tarps in the morning before the snow)

We’re Both Right

Today, I’m more of my daughter’s mindset. I think of end of the Thurgood Marshall biopic, “Marshall,” where he didn’t even stick around in town to hear the verdict of the big case because he was already in another town with another trial. We must keep moving ahead as a country. Yesterday, however, I needed to lean into the relief I felt. Especially as we get older and see more wins and losses, we need to learn to stop and take a pause when we see accountability or progress. It strengthens us in our long journey toward justice.

Snow on purple flowers.