A couple days ago, a Baltimorean pastor led a small group in an extremely disruptive protest. He and those with him parked cars on exit and entrance ramps from 95 to 395. It backed traffic up for miles. For those not from the east coast, 95 is a main highway connecting many states and main cities including DC, Baltimore and NYC. The goal was to press the governor to remove funding for a new jail from the agenda. Protestors made their way to MLK and Washington to continue protest. No people were harmed and no property damaged.
Many people were outraged by this protest. One of my non-violent friends said this crossed the line into violent because perhaps ambulances couldn’t get through, or people on the way to their cancer treatments couldn’t make it.In my opinion, that is a spoon fed argument to restrict these protests to convenient places and means. You may protest, oh yes, as long as it doesn’t change business as usual in any way. She insisted that they should have protested on the federal building steps, and she had gotten arrested for protesting in likewise fashion, so obviously it was effective. But is it effective?
Imagine the hubbub that whole day. People are late for work. People are late to get home. People are walking through the bypasses together to get to the protest. People walking through the cars and talking to each other. What is this about? Why are they doing this? Frustration, anger, curiosity. This protest sure shook up the city. There’s no doubt about it. Love it or hate it, you definitely heard and talked about it. On top of that, no one was harmed. What could possibly be better? Nothing could in my opinion.
But there is something missing from this discussion. Something very important that is being overlooked. It’s how Baltimore is laid out. You’ve probably heard it before, but Baltimore is ridiculously separated. You can be in the posh neighborhood around Hopkins. A cute little Starbucks, electronic meters so you can pay with a credit card, gated communities. Hell, you can get from Towson to Hopkins without laying eyes on even one poor neighborhood. You may even see a marble fountain in someone’s front yard. But just near Hopkins, out of sight, is street after street of boarded up houses. A couple turns away, not toward the highway, you can see the poverty. That’s how Baltimore is arranged. On the way to the highways, it looks good. From the highway- the bypass- you can bypass every unsavory aspect of the city. Closing the way to the bypass forces people to find alternate ways through the city. It forces them to see what they have successfully avoided until that point.
Protests don’t have to be convenient. They don’t have to allow business as usual. Protests can, must even, disrupt the way that we live to make change. This disruption should in no way be impeded by the police. Never again should we see a row of students being tear gassed. We have the right to peaceful protest. And these are peaceful protests. Peaceful does not equal convenient.
Get it BMore!