Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Thoughts On The 'Forward' Statue, Tim Carpenter, And Protests In Madison

IN THE WAKE OF Tuesday night's events in Madison, after protesters tore down well-known statues on the Capitol Square and assaulted a lawmaker, I decided not to say much of anything right away about my feelings on the matter.

I wanted them to be hashed out, and to understand other people's perspectives first, before formulating my own.

That's sometimes important to do, especially during uprisings that have everything to do with inequities and the unjust society that we live in. My privileged opinion should not be shouted out loud from the get-go — and, having read the statuses and statements of others before me, I feel I can adequately address what happened, and my opinion on things, with a clearer mind.

As with everything that's going on these days, there are no "blanket statements" that can be made about what happened. Not every protester engaged in the uprising last night was involved in actions that brought down statues of "Forward" or Hans Christian Heg, and certainly only a select few were involved in the assault of state Sen. Tim Carpenter. To say otherwise is foolish; to suggest the actions of protesters, who are attempting to not only change our policing standards, but also governance and society itself, are all uniform in thinking and action is nonsense, and you should disbelieve anyone who tries to make these types of statements. 

Addressing the statues, we should recognize that they're just that: inanimate objects. A lot of what I read on Wednesday morning was downright furor over their removal and destruction, but we should temper those emotions and realize that the bigger problem in society is not these acts of destruction.

Even Martin Luther King Jr. recognized, while uprisings were not pleasant things all of the time, that "a riot is the language of the unheard." And he urged us not to be more mad at the destruction that occurred than the actions that inspired them to happen.

Seeing "Forward" in the streets made me upset, but it also drew attention to the larger problem. While I wouldn't say that it was an action that should have happened, or should ever happen again, the amount of anger it has generated should be examined. In short, if you're mad about that happening, ask yourself: how mad were you about the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many more Black lives this year or in years' past? If your level of anger about those events is equal to that of the statues being torn down, I seriously question your morals.

"Forward" falling down has particular meaning to me, especially reading some Facebook comments earlier today. The state's motto is about continuing toward progress, toward making Wisconsin better for all. But this state is not progressing at the same speed for everyone in it. Wisconsin is a racist state, and what progress does occur is exponentially better for white communities than it is for BIPOC ones.

Reverence toward a statue that tells us we're moving forward when many are not, then, should not be guaranteed. It's akin to saying "All Lives Matter" in response to "Black Lives Matter." If you tell someone who is struggling, who has faced challenges based on their identity, that, "well, at least things are better than they were before!" in an optimistic tone, it's clear you have not been really listening to what's happening in our society. Yes, we SHOULD be moving Forward TOGETHER — but we are not.

Addressing the actions against Sen. Carpenter — rather than examine them in the deep way I did the destruction to the statues, I will simply say this: there is absolutely no excuse for what happened to him. From what I've read, Carpenter was apparently taking photographs of what was happening. That frustrated some protesters, who didn't want to be photographed.

Their anger is understandable. Their response is not. Engaging in a physical altercation with any person, lawmaker or not, over a matter that can be resolved more peacefully, isn't right.

One more thought before I conclude here: I've seen a few people saying online that they're "questioning supporting the movement" after seeing what happened last night. Regardless of what these individuals, within the larger protest, ended up doing, it should not cause someone to question whether society needs to change, or needs to address inequities and injustices that exist for BIPOC communities. That, to me, reveals more about your character than anything else — that issues of justice or fairness depend upon how comfortable you feel regarding those speaking out.

Protests aren't supposed to be comfortable things: when traffic is stopped, it's supposed to be frustrating. When marches disrupt your ordinary routine, it's supposed to make you mad. That, in turn, draws attention to the causes that are happening. Protest serves a purpose, even if it's not polite.

But that is not a blanket endorsement of all types of protest. There are certainly unjust ways to demonstrate. Destruction of property is in that gray area; causing physical harm to others, particularly those not causing physical harm to anyone else, is not, and shouldn't occur as part of a demonstration.

I will continue to support the Movement for Black Lives, and continue to engage in activities that seek to drastically alter our society. The harm caused to Sen. Carpenter will not cause me to step back from this movement, as I suspect he will continue pursuing the same goals, in some ways, himself.

Featured image credit: James Steakley/Wikimedia

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