After the violence and destructive chaos that erupted after George Floyd’s cruel death on a Minneapolis street, we are being reminded anew of the power of peaceful protest.
Instead of dissipating, the anger at the injustices of our system instead is gathering strength, drawing thousands of Americans to march in every state in the nation and countries abroad, all with the same message: Black lives matter.
That show of solidarity has the power to change the conversation and the culture that has kept us bound far too long to the systemic racism that leaves so many behind. What seems different this time, and more hopeful, is that there is less of a wish to return to “normal,” and a greater recognition that what passed for normal wasn’t working for a whole lot of people.
And that includes corporations, whose involvement can signal a change in national sentiment, as when many supported same-sex marriage. Increasingly, they are supporting the Black Lives Matter cause. Amazon put up a Black Lives Matter banner on its website recently, with owner Jeff Bezos declaring that he was “happy to lose” customers who objected.
PetSmart on Monday issued a statement that said, “We must all commit to standing with our Black communities, to taking meaningful action, to being held accountable, and to saying what we must until it is no longer necessary: Black Lives Matter.” From Netflix: “To be silent is to be complicit.”
It is easy to doubt the sincerity of such gestures, just as some have decried the videos that show some police officers hugging protesters, joining with them, line-dancing in solidarity. But those gestures add up. Each one can embolden and inspire others to join in.
On Sunday, Republican former presidential candidate and current U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney joined the thousands marching on the White House. Asked why, he replied, “We need to end violence and brutality, and to make sure that people understand that black lives matter.”
On Monday a group of Democratic congressional leaders started their day by kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in Emancipation Hall — the precise amount of time former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin can be seen on video applying his knee to Floyd’s neck, squeezing the breath from him. Some protesters have chosen to sprawl facedown on the pavement for that period of time or have stood in silence.
These simple yet powerful gestures speak far louder than the violence that caused so much destruction. They draw support. They make room for conversion. They persist long after rage and hate burn themselves out.
Dare we hope that we are finally prepared to root out the rot that has tainted our democracy for so long? We do. But when it comes, it is more likely to be the result not of rage and destruction, but of a peaceful but persistent demand for lasting change that calls out the best in us.