Actions unfolded across the country today as part of the ongoing wave of protests that have continued to electrify our streets since Mike Brown’s death in August. Here in Chicago, we saw a lively protest play out in an usual venue. Just before rush hour, over 100 people boarded a northbound Red Line train at Jackson and State and began a series of performances, chants, and speak outs about racism and policing.
Protests on the Chicago transit system aren’t unheard of, but they’re not at all the norm. This one generated the hashtag #TrainTakeover, which was trending on Twitter by the time I caught up with the train. I’d been at home, relaxing with my partner when I saw the tweets. One indicated that the train had been stopped at the Granville station in Edgewater, and that police were en route. I live about ten minutes away from that train station, so I raced over.
The train had moved north by then, and I learned from Twitter that the protestors had switched to the southbound track, so I waited.
When I boarded the train, I was greeted with music and some familiar faces. I was immediately impressed with the energy they had created on that moving stage. They had thoughtfully transformed a space in order to discuss modern day lynchings committed by police, transformative justice practices, and the idea of building safety through community connectedness. I watched as a number of people reacted very positively to their words and songs.
Breathing all of that in was more inspiring than I can say.
I snapped pictures and tweeted, as I usually do at events where I don’t play any organizing role, mostly because I don’t know how else to make myself useful.
During one particularly inspiring moment, a young white woman called out, “I am addressing all of the white people on this train. We need to stop calling the police. We need to do better!” She went on to talk about how white people often don’t understand the mechanics of how police interact with people of color, and that regardless of intent, calling the police puts marginalized people at great risk. Hearing these abolitionist words in such a powerful, transformative setting was deeply moving.
I’m grateful that this crowd was so creative, warm, and welcoming, and that social media allowed me to find and join them. It was also great to see an effort like this play out without any arrests. While I understand the value of civil disobedience, I believe that arrests are a resource that should be spent as cautiously as possible. Sometimes, getting arrested is an unavoidable side effect of doing a thing that we feel needs to be done. In those moments, pending court cases can compromise our ability to move freely. While we don’t always get to make those decisions, as police are both violent and unpredictable, it’s good to see young people making calculated decisions and looking out for one another. We have had too many of our brightest young activists and organizers swept up by the police lately, and no matter how many times you see that happen, watching good people being deprived of their liberty is downright painful.
In my experience, it’s much easier to get arrested than to experience the sense of helplessness that accompanies seeing a friend or ally being taken into state custody. I’m so grateful that, on this particular day, these young people were able to take their message to the elevated train without anyone being taken from them. They were certainly taking some amount of risk, but it was measured risk, and their tactics allowed them to express themselves, and then walk away in peace.