I hear him before I see him.
He slides into my limited periphery, finger thrusting in my face, camera phone lifted at my eye level.
“Fuck you” he says again, quickly, forcefully. To me.
He moves on to do the same to my husband, with whom I have linked arms. I don’t respond. I let his words roll off me, I keep my face straight. I do not bat a single fucking eyelash.
I am crossing a blocked intersection on 5th Avenue in New York City, somewhere in the middle of thousands of people marching to deliver a message to Trump Tower. A message that we do not condone or accept the racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, Islamophobic agenda of our new President Elect.
And no one checks in. I ask my husband if he’s ok. He seems fine. Others around us saw it happen – I know we are moving, we have to keep moving, but if one person had sidled up and said “Hey, are you OK?” it would have gone a long way towards protest unity.
Nonviolent protest is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I’ve done it in protest of the Iraq war, I’ve done it in protest of the injustice of gay marriage being denied to my community, I have raised my voice at an ActUp rally.
I can’t ever remember being verbally harassed this way. I remember seeing counter protestors, and I remember their signs hurt to see, especially at the gay marriage rallies.
But no one ever came up to me, and verbally assaulted me before. No one ever did it to everyone I stood beside. This is because I am white, and privileged enough to normally not have hate spewed in my face. When it does happen to me, it’s not usually when I am with others, but when I am alone, a disabled woman by herself. Then, the verbal assaults happen, because I look frail and like something vulnerable to punch with words. When I am alone, I am called a disabled bitch. When I am alone I have had police ask me if my cane is a weapon. When I am alone I have been followed, been threatened. Being alone at a protest is unsafe for me. I will never protest alone again. I will never leave a protest by myself again.
If this is what protests are going to look like from here on out, then we need to talk about the value of de-escalation. We need to train ourselves not to respond when we are told “Fuck you”, when our detractors are ready to scream at us, to put us down, and to show us that we are reviled.
Nonviolent protest, peaceful protest is valuable, but only if we stay nonviolent.
An intervention when the man was speaking would have done nothing. He would have escalated. But we must be better about caring for each other in the streets. We must be better about seeing one another.
I was a blind woman at a protest, holding my husband’s arm, and no one stepped out of my way. No one paid attention to whether or not a sign was in my face, or if they were curtailing my cane usage. When people took selfies in the middle of the road, they didn’t stop to let us pass. I couldn’t navigate that with the thousand of people around us.
Fellow protestors, we must do better. We must be more aware of one another, more compassionate towards one another, because the people who are watching won’t be.