Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Small Protest: One Asian Face

Unlike my bud Aarti from the Buddhist-Catholic dialogue who gets to march alongside Father Pflager in big downtown marches against the mayor and the police, I opt to stick close to the temple. When I saw on Facebook that there would be a demonstration at the main intersection near the temple today, I arranged my schedule so I could join in.

It was billed as a protest against the state budget cuts. Almost everyone I talk to in social services says they feel the impact of the funds withheld by the Illinois government. So I envisioned this would be a huge event with so many social services agencies in Uptown, but I wondered why I wasn’t getting any emails from ONE Northside and other community activist groups about it.

I was expecting a blocking of traffic like what happened on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, but I saw only a small circle of picketers on one corner. Then they gathered everyone together to hear a couple rally speeches over the bullhorn. Instead of a traffic disruption, the announced aim of the gathering was to deliver a letter to Bank of America, protesting their support of the governor.

Just as well it was chilly out and I not only had my University of Minnesota hoodie on but the hood of my winter coat pulled over my face – because that branch of the Bank of America being close to the temple is where I often go for personal business. I guess it’s one thing to show up as a protester but you don’t want to be recognized by the bank staff as a regular customer.

Most of the bullhorn speeches were made by a 40-ish white guy, but he let a young black guy do some speaking. As that young guy spoke, I couldn’t help thinking it’s hard to sound credible protesting against “the man” when you have a Starbucks cup in your hand. (I know it was chilly out and one needed something to keep warm.)

Then it was announced we’d go all go into the bank to deliver the letter. The security guard and a couple of bank clerks stopped people from going in. Then a tall black man of imposing build came to the doorway and announced he was a bishop of some denomination and called for calm. I thought they might give him the bullhorn so we could hear him but instead the leaders started chanting slogans to drown him out.

A policeman who came to stand alongside the security guard called in a report saying there were “about 30 protesters” but I’d say it was more like two dozen. Most of them were either baby boomer or very young whites and a handful were black. I was the only Asian face. There were a couple of video cameras with reporters but the only identifiable network presence was a young woman with a Univision microphone.

One older white woman read the letter to Bank of America aloud but it stayed in her hand – no one in the bank was willing to receive it from her. So twenty minutes after the scheduled time, the 40-ish man with the bullhorn thanked everyone for coming and invited everyone to a meeting up the street later that evening. Me – the bourgeois that I am, I went to the yuppie bar to write this while having poutine and wine. “We’re sold out but the banks are bailed out” – yes, I chanted but I know I’m not suffering materially like so many people are.

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