Community Voices: From Local to National, Protests Matter

June 6, 2020

Submitted by Jordan Stewart


As protests continue in every major city around the country, local communities have begun to hold protests of their own. Bedford has been no exception, holding protests on the Common every day since June 2. Tuesday’s initial protest began small, with five Bedford High School alumni gathering in protest of racially inspired killings by police. The following days saw upwards of 100 Bedford residents gathering in unity for the same cause.

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Over the past few days, I’ve attended three events honoring George Floyd and protesting violence at the hands of police: a vigil in Jamaica Plain on Thursday, a protest in my hometown of Waltham Friday morning, and Friday’s protest on the Bedford Common. The three have been distinctly different. Jamaica Plain, Waltham, and Bedford are all very different communities, and the different protests have reflected such.

Jamaica Plain’s vigil was similar to the larger protests depicted early in the week by the media. What had to have been thousands of people gathered beginning at the Jamaica Plain Monument and flooded down the road as far as the eye could see. The crowd was powerful and intimidating; not in a way that suggested violence, but was moving and filled with passion. Although the vigil was organized by a group of older white women, there was no race or age group which was more represented than any others. This vigil was not intended to host only residents from JP. Being in such an urban setting, it was clear that people from much of the Greater Boston area came in support. The streets were a sea of black clothing and many were covered in words of protest written in black body paint.

As the vigil came to an end, I had the opportunity to speak to a few of the event organizers. Of course, my voice recorder stopped recording after two seconds of our five-minute conversation. Still, I was able to come away with some important messages (but no quotes). Thursday’s event was the 53rd vigil held by the group, which has organized vigils in Jamaica Plain in honor of Black Lives Matter since 2015. We spoke about protesting and how to be an ally in protesting racially inspired violence. They were proud of the local towns organizing their own protests, but also stressed the importance of continuously educating yourself and those around you through news, books, and podcasts.

While the protests in Waltham and Bedford were both significantly smaller than the vigil in Jamaica Plain, each was certainly unique. Waltham’s diversity was clearly represented at the protest. A few hundred people gathered at Waltham Common outside Town Hall. Many of the protestors were Waltham High students or recent graduates, as well as many who appeared to be in their older 20s. Again, the protestors all wore nothing but black. Speakers stood on a statue and took turns expressing their pain and frustration with what they’ve experienced for years. White and Hispanic speakers acknowledged that while they will never understand the struggles Black people in America have faced for centuries, they would commit to educating themselves and standing for change any chance they could, not just in the wake of tragedy. The most powerful speeches undoubtedly came from the Black speakers, some of whom were as young as high school age. The pain and sadness could be heard in their voices as they shared experiences that their family, friends, and they themselves have had dealing with facing racism in America. For nearly nine minutes, the time Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck, protestors participated in a die-in, where we lay silently on the ground with our heads down.

At Bedford’s Friday protest, the town’s unity was as clear as ever. The crowd was less diverse than in Jamaica Plain and Waltham, but protestors of every age were in attendance. Especially inspiring was the number of families with young children at the protest. Shannon Leonard, the organizer of the protest, had a mission for creating the protest which echoed the words of the organizers of the Jamaica Plain vigil. She explained it as “Bedford needed awareness when it comes to the injustices of Black Americans here.”  While the atmosphere was the lightest of the protests I attended, the message came across clearly and reflected that which Leonard expressed to us. “Bedford has seen some hate in the recent past,” she said, “seeing an overwhelming number of supporters out here holding Black Lives Matter signs might reach a few people, or let people know we’re not going to stand for their hate.” Protestors chanted and sang Happy Birthday to Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her own bed by police on March 13, 2020, and would have turned 27 on Friday.

There is not one single way to protest. Different communities have different experiences and unique demographics. Especially in addressing the challenge of racism, those different experiences give each of us different roles in pursuing the change which is so desperately needed. Education and communication will be essential in taking the next steps towards equality, and the protests in Jamaica Plain, Waltham, Bedford, and so many communities around the country are encouraging signs that people are prepared to do just that.

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