All #BlackLivesMatter & Advice to That Young Activist

Foley Square in Lower Manhattan on December 4. | KELLY COGSWELL

Foley Square in Lower Manhattan on December 4. | KELLY COGSWELL

BY KELLY COGSWELL | If there’s any cause for hope on America’s racism front, it is that young black woman in braces on the TV. She wasn’t just a participant, but an organizer of some of the New York marches protesting Eric Garner’s death and the verdict that gave his cop murderer a free pass.

Watching her talk, you have to wonder how long it will be before the old guard try to wrangle her into speaking at one more March on Washington, or a big New York Rally Against Something or Other, sandwiching her in between reverend this, or congressman that, sucking up her youth and vitality the way they always do.

As an “older and wiser” activist, I feel I should give her some advice. Which first of all is to ignore older and wiser activists of all kinds. You seem to know what you’re doing, keep it up. And be especially wary of anybody offering a platform you haven’t built yourself. The more successful you are, the more the old guard will come knocking at your door, and you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t give much in exchange. Before you know it, your cause will have become a career, and whatever new ideas you had, whatever lines you were willing to cross will seem ridiculous, outlandish, not at all worth the risk.

A Dyke Abroad

I mean, really, what kind of sucker actually believes this U, S, of A, can deliver on its promises of liberty and justice for all? Or that it’s worth putting yourself in harm’s way for a man that’s already dead? Naw, take the crumbs you can get and milk that expense account for all its worth. Not that they’ll tell you that up front. They’ll tell you that they’re actually considering your ideas in Committee A. And adding some language to the guidelines Committee B is going to present. Change takes time, and blah blah blah. Come back next Thursday at nine for the photo op with the mayor.

No, my friend, better to do what you’re doing, and refuse compromise. Let the wheelers and dealers wheel and deal. You stick to the streets. Allow yourself to dream a better city, better country. Demand everything. Fight hard, resist violence, and keep each other safe. Maybe even fly the freak flag once in a while. Avoid any proposition that requires new clothes.

All I want for Christmas is to see the hashtag upgraded to read #allblacklivesmatter. We know the names of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, but what about Dionte Green, another black death in Missouri, but gay this time? Doesn’t he count, too? Or how about black cis-woman Yvette Smith who was shot twice by a deputy sheriff earlier this year in Texas? In 2010, Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley killed a young black girl Aiyana Jones. Sakia Gunn was killed for being a dyke, neither the first nor last. Last Friday, DeShawnda Bradley (Sanchez), a black trans woman, was killed while she was pounding on a stranger’s door for help.

All black lives matter, not just those of black men, and not just those killed by cops who wear on their shoulders the power of the State and carry terror in the increasingly large guns, and teargas, and — I never thought I’d say this — tanks.

Black women come in for more than their share of violence. And the deaths of black trans women should inspire an equally enduring rage. Often committed brutally, and publicly, with extraordinary violence, their horrible deaths are meant to inspire fear in a whole population, just like lynchings. The life-and-death power on display here is not so much that of the State, but of an entire society that already forces trans women of color to the margins. Makes school impossible, like finding decent jobs. Their lives matter, too.

Don’t be afraid to say it. Maybe for the first time it would work. The movement seems open and free — for the moment. I went down to a protest at Foley Square last week, and on my way saw young people of all races arriving together, as friends. Even if you don’t believe the white kids are there for the long haul, and even if you’ll often find their privilege shows, a generation ago those white kids wouldn’t have been there at all. So they’re learning. They’re educable. And accepting. Dare everything.

Beyond that, what can I say? I’ve been at this a while, know how to work the press, marshal organized demos, but these free-flowing, wonderful, cop-thwarting things popping up all over the city are beyond me. I’m thrilled to see street activism and direct action renewed, going beyond those sterile Facebook clicks. Some things like racism, like homophobia, won’t change unless we confront them in the flesh. It’s what our enemies are so afraid of.

Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” published earlier this year by the University of Minnesota Press.

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