During the last 6 weeks we have been out protesting quite a bit. Always at family friendly events. Our favorite protest was the one on Thursdays in Berkeley, organized by parents of Washington Elementary School. Once a week we would stand along MLK street, holding our signs and taking a short “march” from one traffic light to the other and back. My hope: If just one of the drivers passing by reads a sign and gets reminded of all the work we still have to do towards equity and justice, these 60 minutes were worth my time.
The kids wrote BLM on the sidewalks or Black Lives Matter (these are probably the only three words my kindergartner can spell reliably by now, apart from his name).
There was always chalk abundantly. There were snacks and water (parents know what kids need) and lots of bubbles. “I am known as the lady who buys all the bubbles at the Dollar Store on Thursdays”, one of the organizers laughed.
One of the slogans on the signs read: “White Silence is Violence”. My daughter read it and asked me: “Mom, what does this mean? I understand the words, but I don’t understand it.”
So, we had a conversation about compliance. Like, your friend gets treated badly by another classmate and you just stand by and watch or turn away or pretend not to see. Later, when you see your friend again, she will be asking you: Why didn’t you help me? And you will probably find an excuse (“They were too many.” “What can I do.” “They wouldn’t have listened anyway.” “I was afraid.” “I didn’t know what to say.” “I didn’t think it was that bad.” I am sure, you can think of more examples.) and maybe even apologize (“I am so sorry, I promise it won’t happen again.” Yet, why should your friend believe you?). It will gnaw at your friendship and the trust will never be the same again.
We talked about how remaining silent in the face of injustice means, that you actually take part in it. Silently, but effectively. Endorsing and enabling the evil happening around you. It’s basically “non-assistance of a person in danger”. In Germany, this is a crime punishable with up to one year in jail, if one doesn’t assist a person in danger. I just learned, that in the US it isn’t. (I guess, my example doesn’t really work then. It’s an interesting legal difference to ponder about.)
Now, this becomes even more obvious when there are different power structures at play. For us Christians, it’s one of the best-known stories, that talks about exactly that. Compliance through silence. “So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” (Matthew 27:24)
We worship a God whose Son was killed by powerful silence of the one authority that could have saved his life. Pilate didn’t do anything and through that signed Jesus’ death sentence. Powerful silence is powerful. What a surprise. Seemingly powerless silence by many is powerful. Because silence is not “NO”. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s intended as a “MAYBE” or “YES”. No “NO” to injustice has the power to lead to injustice and violence. And it will. Jesus knows. God knows. We know.
And we can change that. We can turn grey, quiet sidewalks into colorful streets filled with allies, blowing bubbles of change into the air. Imagine, Pilate hadn’t complied back then…
Wishing you powerful courage to speak up, Pr Tia!