Many different forms of action are needed in social movements

BRATTLEBORO — Byron Stookey suggests that murals, demonstrations, and slogans are “counterproductive” to social movements. I am grateful for the thought-provoking piece.

I agree that statements can be abused. In particular, “Black Lives Matter” is often used by well-meaning non-Black people who wish to express solidarity to an experience of oppression they do not share. It can become a comfortable display for a predominantly white community to preserve its politically “progressive” front without putting real effort into making a place safer for Black people.

As a white American, I live in the privileged position to choose whether or not I ignore problems in my community and the world. It is important to me to have these phrases prevalent.

After all the hard work it took for Black and students of color to get Brattleboro Union High School to fly a Black Lives Matter flag in 2018, what does it say about Brattleboro that the school decided to take it down after the first few weeks of the following school year, without any communication with the groups who put it up?

In this example, the slogan served as a significant acknowledgement of the need for an anti-racist system of accountability within the education system.

To the concern that the Putney Central School mural might catalyze reactionary graffiti: There have always been incidents of racist graffiti in Vermont. In any case, we're prompted to confront why swastikas are being spray-painted in public spaces, and we find the answers are not so inconspicuous. Speaking of white-supremacist symbology, why do racist school mascots get so heavily defended across Vermont?

To me, the purpose of protests is not to “change [anyone's] thinking,” but for, as Stookey says, “community building.” A physical gathering of bodies is a representation of the quantity, the “who,” and the “how” of care. It leads to connections, and a sense of momentum toward a shared vision.

Yes, many different forms of action are needed to gather that momentum. Education and legislation are other tools for creating a world where the dignity and joy of human beings (and all living beings, for that matter) are prioritized over concerns of profit and power.

For this reason, I counter Stookey's claim that protests and widespread slogans only serve to “arouse the opposition” and “distract” from “more focused efforts.”

We need diverse forms of resistance, because people are different! Some feel called to organize rallies, and some might have only the capacity to build a self-care practice into their daily life. Some might coordinate nonprofit organizations, and some may help paint a BLM mural.

Art and caretaking are undervalued in Western culture. Instead of naming “better” ways to help, celebrate how fulfillment feels different for everybody. We each need to follow what's truly within our capacity.

The purpose for murals and demonstrations is their connection to larger movements. This feeling is impossible to put into words: an understanding of the interconnectedness of our struggles, and the revelatory meeting of our differences.

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