Friday, May 27, 2016
Salem, Oregon high school students march through downtown against Trump and for immigrant rights and Bernie---and I learn a lesson
Salem's streets came suddenly alive today when hundreds of high school students marched through town chanting anti-Trump and pro-immigrant and pro-Bernie slogans. The crowd of young people moved quickly and joyously through the downtown area shouting "Fuck Trump!" and "Vote Bernie!" and gave strong pro-immigrant and anti-racist messages. The signs were mostly homemade and the passion for social change was there. The police were caught off-guard and allowed the young people to block traffic, chant and march without incident.
I joined the march and was one of the few white people to participate, and I was certainly also the oldest person taking part. The average age of the marchers was probably sixteen. When I asked some young people who were marching who organized it they said, "Everyone!" My favorite sign was a homemade Mexican flag on cardboard with a message written over it that said "Roses are red, tacos are wonderful---don't blame a Mexican if you're unemployable!" A favorite moment for me was when a young man forced a very angry cop on a motorcycle into a selfie he was taking. The students closest to me came from McNary and were proud of it. There was lots of nervous talk about marching on West Salem and disturbing the wealthy people there. Some young people started to chant "The people united..." but didn't know all of the words or the rhythm.
The young people had no designated leadership, they didn't quite get the idea of everyone chanting in unison, there were no bullhorns or protest marshals. This was a largely spontaneous and self-driven march full of passion and hope. It comes right after the Woodburn walkout and after similar actions carried out by other high school students around Oregon. It was great to see young white people in the march and to see everyone getting along, but major credit has to go to the Latino/a students for doing this. The community and the families of these young people need to be proud and protective and we all need to give them our support.
I can't find any posted photos of the march. The Statesman Journal has one weak photo and a short article which doesn't say much or capture the numbers of people involved. This great movement of the youth is catching everyone by surprise. It was an emotional charge to march with the students and hear them chanting for Bernie---young people who are too young to vote, with many coming from families who can't vote, are carrying a message of hope and change. What's wrong with the rest of us?
Lenin is credited with having said that patience and irony are the virtues of a Bolshevik. I learned that again today. There I was stuck in traffic on my way to a racial justice activist meeting and with enough time built in to read a bit of Varoufakis' And the Weak Suffer What They Must before the meeting. There I was getting angry at the traffic bottleneck. And then I saw the march, that beautiful march led by young people browner and smarter and more engaged than I will ever be. And my heart melted. I cut across a lane of traffic, parked and ran to join the march. The kids were a little freaked out when I joined in and didn't really answer when I asked if my being there was okay. It was hard to run with them and to talk to them.
You can get ticked off about being stuck in traffic when you're on your way to an anti-racist meeting and when you want to read about the fight against austerity and neo-liberalism in Greece. And you can be surprised by an anti-racist demo blocking traffic and led by young people of color who are fighting neo-liberal policies and fighting for immigrant rights as if their lives depend on it---and, in fact, their lives do depend on it. Patience and irony become our virtues in these moments.
I returned to my car 45 minutes later to find a note on my windshield from the city. The note says that you can park downtown for shopping, but not for work, and that you will be ticketed if you're caught not consuming. Really? And what is the fine for parking while trying to change the world?