This past weekend, George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the death of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Though it’s objectively clear to many that Zimmerman stalked and killed Martin, the court found insufficient evidence that Zimmerman was responsible for Martin’s death.
What no one can dispute, however, is that Martin would still be alive if Zimmerman had not decided that Martin fit the profile of a criminal and thus resisted the urge to tap into his inner Paul Blart in pursuing the teen. That Zimmerman’s culpability has been reduced to zero has a lot of people very, very pissed off.
But you knew that already.
So what did you do about it?
Did you Tweet something about how there’s “no justice, no peace” or post a blacked out Instagram photo or whatever the action-du-jour on your social network of choice was? That took you all of two seconds. I get it. You wanted to align yourself publicly with a particular side in the debate. You’re on the good side, and now everyone (who follows you) knows it. Props.
Maybe you were even proactive enough to head to Union Square and march and chant and wave a sign around to express your anger and disapproval. Forget two seconds, your ballsy streetwise no-fear-havin’ ass probably spent two precious Sunday hours baring your teeth to show everyone just how unabashedly pissed off you really are.
But what’d you do afterwards? After the rally dispersed?
You probably went home and went about your Sunday night, feeling slightly more validated in your group-empowered anger and in your place as one of the good guys in this world.
You just wasted two fucking hours.
Marching fundamentally accomplishes one thing: It raises awareness. For a cause to be march-worthy, a certain amount of awareness has to exist behind it already. What the best marches do is heighten existing awareness to demonstrate that a cause warrants attention on an unprecedented, press-worthy scale. Think: MLK’s March on Washington. The nation already knew the Civil Rights Movement was a growing thing, but holy shit! 300,000 black faces crowding the National Mall roaring approval at a well thought out collective dream. Media coverage took off. A year later, we passed the Civil Rights Act.
But when a cause already has maximum exposure? When social media is already saturated with dialogue on both sides of the aisle? When FOX and MSNBC and every network in between are already covering every minute aspect of the case and its aftermath? When the conversation has already been framed around race and the backlash against Zimmerman and racial profiling has been deafeningly unavoidable ever since Trayvon’s life was taken last February? When the scale of those who are royally pissed off about the killing of an innocent child is already quite, quite clear? When, in summary, raising awareness is not at issue whatsoever?
Then I’m sorry, but a march is a total fucking waste of time.
In fact, it’s worse than a waste of time. It’s an excuse. It’s an easy way to carve out a small chunk of your day to participate in something that makes you feel like you’ve “done your part.” Not only that, but it makes you feel brave. There are cops around, after all! You’re blocking traffic! What a sexy, democratic thing to do.
But the cops aren’t there to stop you, they’re there to contain you. Because those in power have wisely decided that a simple march doesn’t justify the use of time and resources that shutting it down would require. Damn near anybody—the KKK and the Westboro Baptist Church included, not just the good sides—can march in this country. Marching is as much a part of the cultural fabric as Stand Your Ground and the fearmongering politicians who drafted that legislation.
Want to participate in a meaningful demonstration that may actually bring change? Go to Gezi, or go to Cairo. Don’t go to Union Square, and then go home.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, for all its lack of cohesion, was legitimately disruptive. There was a lack of awareness about the collective dissatisfaction of a marginalized group. So the Occupy protestors did something ballsy and illegal, and a new kind of attention was then paid to a deserving cause. A conversation was started.
But there’s no disruption in marching for Trayvon. The conversation has been loud for a long time already. Lack of cohesion you’ll find in healthy supply. From Rolling Stone’s coverage:
“As the sun began to set in New York on Sunday, Woods Legrand, a 20-year-old black man from Flatbush, Brooklyn, walked arm-in-arm with his friends at the head of the march. Their anger and frustration was palpable as they led chants and directed the crowd.
“I was hurt,” Legrand told Rolling Stone of his feelings when he heard the verdict. “But it wasn’t nothing new to me. I just took it in stride, and I hope this can serve as a catalyst.”
A catalyst for what? “A revolt,” he added. “I’m not an activist. I’m not a freedom fighter. I’m not a firefly or a revolutionary. I’m just a kid, man, with an opinion. And this shit is fucked up.”
He’s right, shit is fucked up. But we already knew that. There is no lack of awareness to be solved for. And when the best answer you can come up with for why you’re out there is to be a “catalyst for revolt,” you’re not changing anything; you’re marching backwards.
Epilogue: I do realize that while bashing the response to what I think is an epic failure of the criminal justice system and a tragic reminder of how the mere color of your skin can set off a fatal chain of events, I haven’t actually offered any solutions. Here’s the best I can do: Vote for those with a sane legislative vision and donate money and time to organizations that make the world a better place for kids like Trayvon Martin. Or hug your own kids and love them as much as you can. Just don’t waste two fucking hours and then go home.
Featured image courtesy of NY Mag