Protest or Revolution? The People Decide
What is a protest? In simplest terms, to “protest” against something is to object to it. Americans have protested for centuries, from the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the Women’s Suffrage Parade of 1913, to the March on Washington in 1963. Americans have not only protested what we object to, we have protested unfair treatment. In 2020 that trend is no different. Many groups today stand up against the nation’s system to show their desire for change.
On August 26th, 2020, one group of 15-25 protesters stood for their voices to be heard an hour south of UMSL. In the town of Leadwood, MO, the group of young adults held signs, shouted chants, and spoke out against police brutality. This small community, usually filled with the hustle of daily life, was now filled with the tensions brought on by an unjust system. The protest was planned for Leadwood in hopes of showing the townspeople that police brutality needs to be addressed everywhere. While standing across from the town’s city hall, the group urged passing cars to support police reform. Protesters sat at the corner of two streets, only taking breaks to hydrate; they had a water supply available for everyone. Hoping to attract more listeners, the group brought pamphlets to give to those countering the protest. Though met with only ridicule, glares, and guns, the group continued to try and communicate with the counter-protesters. Those countering arranged themselves to stand along the roads next to and across from the protesters. Some protesters offered to speak with those countering, while others asked questions in an attempt to understand their side. Understanding was hard, as half of the counter-protesters showed up to the protest armed even though the protest was described online as being peaceful.
After letting time pass, a few counter-protesters ended up listening. Some members of the counter-protest joined with the group to hear what the message was really about. Many of those countering were citizens of the town who feared the community would be harmed. Letting what they saw in the media influence their perception of the protest, some community members realized their mistake after speaking with the protestors. One man even stated he "crossed sides" after seeing how many guns were brought by the counterting community members. His intention when coming to the protest was to sit with the townspeople in case things got violent; however, he said that it "didn’t make sense to see so many townspeople with guns, while protesters were only holding signs." After seeing this, the man crossed the street and sat within the front row of protesters, stating that he “felt ten times more comfortable on the protesting side than the counter." He talked with the group about the situation. Other members of the town didn’t see things the same way. People were confused as to why the group was there in the first place. They thought that their police officers were always peaceful and fair. It didn’t make sense to them why the group picked their “small town” to protest in.
As the evening progressed, members of the protest and town would be shown why they needed to be there. A black male left the protest only to be stopped and searched in front of both sides. Without a speed limit sign in sight, the man drove over the limit and stopped immediately when two counter-protesters stepped in front of his vehicle. A police officer shouted at him to stop, then proceeded to tell him to step out. The man was patted down, his hands on the vehicle, in the middle of the two sides. This resulted in an uproar from both. Protesters screamed, “this is why we’re here!” and were countered by unintelligible shouting from the townspeople. Though what seemed like a usual stop and search for someone speeding in front of so many people, it would later prove to be an example of unfair treatment by the police.
The group fell silent for a few minutes after this incident, trying to regroup and refocus. It was only ten minutes later when another vehicle sped down the same road at a similar speed. This vehicle, however, was only stopped. The white driver did not have to step out of the vehicle, and was only told to slow down. A key difference between the two men driving: counter-protesters stepped out in front of the first driver. Even though they saw his speed, they decided to step out in front of his vehicle, causing him to halt it. When seeing the second vehicle approach, none stepped forward. Many protesters saw those steps forward as intentional, while the counter-protesters saw the first man’s driving as intentional.
Some individuals from this protest later went to the Ironton protest on August 31st. This protest focused more on general systemic racism, but still voiced the need for reform in the police department. Although advertised as a “protest," members of the group did not feel this word fit the description. One member called it a revolution, the difference being that protests “scream for what they don’t really believe in,” while a revolution involves “getting up every day to fight." After these statements were made, protesters went silent; wanting a “silent sit-in," the group had changed strategies for this revolution.
In front of the town’s courthouse, their silence and signs were met with flags and firearms. It seemed that even when communication was attempted, the counter-protesters weren’t hearing it. Multiple members of the group attempted to speak with the other side through their megaphones. The counter-protesters would rebuttal and, as in Leadwood, wonder why the group was in their “small town." They didn’t understand what would come from the protest happening. As with the counter-protesters in Leadwood, these people were members of the community who feared destruction in their town. Many recalled news channels showing protesters breaking windows of homes and destroying buildings in other towns. They screamed for Donald Trump to win the next election and pleaded to understand why the group wouldn’t see their side.
After more shouted words from the townspeople, followed by unanswered questions asked by the protesters, conversations sparked. The sides were able to merge and apologies were given. A couple counter-protesters walked over to the protest in order to apologize to specific members directly. Protesters also joined the other side in order to make amends. Towards the end of the night, a protester was asked by one of the counter-protesters what they can do to help the situation. The protester replied, telling him to “spread the message to his friends to break the cycle of, and not feed into, racism."