I Want to Talk To You About Protesting

[This is an update that I posted on my personal Facebook page on July 25, slightly edited.]

I want to talk to you all about protesting. I want you to understand how powerful it is to stand on the sidewalk every week on Resist Trump Tuesday (so far, still the sidewalk and not the street–but that may come soon the way things are going), holding your sign, looking directly. into. the. eyes. of drivers-by, who are only a few feet away, and showing them how you feel and asking them to — no, MAKING them – register the current political crisis. We sing, dance, wave our signs, and shout: “honk!” and “thank you!”(to the supporters) and “we’re protecting your health care too!” (to the naysayers), and “Impeaaach!”

The responses are endlessly energizing: the countless (because it’s Eugene, Oregon) waves, honks, thumbs-up, shaka signs, fist pumps, and smiles. And of course the occasional middle finger, snarky “Go Trump” shout, or mega-revved engine meant, i think, to intimidate. We have come to know our primary constituencies: ie, (this is not an exhaustive list) middle aged white women in Priuses (love us), middle aged white women in luxury cars (don’t love us), dykes in trucks (TRULY LOVE US), old white men in shitty clunkers (mostly hate us, unless they are hippies, then love us), international students in Lamborghinis (mostly indifferent to us), etc.

Reactions tend to be big. The honks are loud and long, the smiles are huge. The middle fingers are quite emphatic. Today we had a hand-puppet waving eagerly from a sun-roof, the sign of the horns from two rock and rollers on motocycles, and a bag of organic plantain chips from a young woman who stopped traffic to thrust it earnestly out her window … immediately followed by a man who had clearly prepared the small Trump sign he held up to his window with his middle finger.

I love watching all the different people and their reactions, especially the really elderly when they furrow their brows and press their lips together in concentration to manage a small, tentative honk.

But most of all I love watching the kids. The big-eyed, open-mouthed kids, who stare out the windows from the back seats, studying us, taking it all in. I can see the gears working, as they whiz by. I hope it makes a lasting impact.

At the same time, I am conscious that we are a very white (and tbh, old) group, and ponder what that means for the people of color who drive by. Drivers of color are much more restrained;  men of color in particular engage and make eye contact only rarely.  I am aware that protesting the current administration, without centering racism, is an example of and exercise in white privilege. Kellee and I make a point of wearing Black Lives Matter messages prominently.

I believe this is a privilege that white people need to exercise often and without ceasing, because we can do so at the least risk.

About three years ago, I was a driver-by. I passed protests on the street, and wouldn’t even make eye contact. The first time I beeped, I was terrified. It felt so risky. Then I started to beep and wave. Then I joined SURJ and started going to protests. Then I started planning them. Now I’m one of the weekly Resist Trump Tuesday core organizers. I really truly believe that if I can get one person to honk for the first time, I’ve moved them one step closer to taking to the streets when the time comes.

And honestly, Tuesday 12-1 is one of the highlights of my week. Because it’s fun. And meaningful. And great community. And deep and profound work, to look in your neighbors’ eyes and make them recognize the truth of this moment.

I used to watch documentaries of the civil rights movement and think, “I’m pretty sure — well, I hope– *I* would have done the right thing.” Well, when they make the documentaries of this time 20-50 years from now (I mean, if people are still around to make documentaries at that point), I must be able to say that I was among those who were there, and did the right thing. So I keep showing up. I hope that you will join me. Academics can no longer be politically quiescent. The crisis is upon us and we have to declare to our fellow citizens that none of this is ok.

About Karen

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions–University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I’ve created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don’t.


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