The #BlackLivesMatter human rights movement, which was founded in 2013 has recently received global attention, where protests have embodied a new-found momentum. This is due in great part to the reactionary uproar that followed George Floyd’s murder by a police officer on the 25 May. Despite lockdown restrictions due to the Covid-19, protests have been taking example on the pandemic as they are spreading all over the world. It’s different cities and different names, but similar stories: justice for Belly Mujinga in London, justice for Shukri Abdi in Manchester, justice for Adama in Paris, justice for George Floyd in in Minneapolis. Each time, one life too many has fallen into the hands of systemic racism.
'Revolution is not a one-time event' - Audre Lorde
Images: Elissa Vinh
Up to this present day, Civil Rights public demonstrations remain deeply rooted in the mentality of their great ancestor: the 1960s Black Power movement. With over ten years of activism, the legendary Black Panther Party, led by Kwame Ture, Fred Hampton and Huey Newton amongst others, have left a rich revolutionary legacy. Since, protesters from all origins have followed in the footsteps of the Black Panther Party; transcending racial, gender and class divisions in order to raise awareness about social injustice.
One century and a half later, the overdue governmental restorative debt of two mules and forty acres remains. Protesters are still demanding justice not too dissimilar from the pleas that were originally made fifty four years ago in the Ten-Point Platform and Program. Nevertheless, their demands are being heard more widely than before, with new arguments becoming more accepted into mainstream activism such as defunding the police and the prison system to eradicate the unjust mass incarceration problem in the US. Evidently, lessons have been learnt from past activism, giving rise to the emergence of new ideas and perspectives. Although last century’s turbulent sixties are long gone, the renegade spirit still persists amidst the new generations of militants.
In 2020, protesters still walk together, delivering speeches and chanting unifying and fists are pushed into the air with defiance. The format of modern protests are rooted in historical tactics and chants, including ‘No Justice, No Peace’. Today, George Floyd’s last words ‘I can’t breathe’ are written on face masks and handmade cardboard signs. This does not only commemorate his tragic death and address police violence, but it also symbolises the way in which institutional racism is suffocating Black lives daily.
‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ - Desmond Tutu
Upon seeing the scale that the Black Lives Matter protest movement was taking, I too wanted to exercise my freedom of expression as an individual from a minoritised community. It is important for those of us with privileges to amplify the unheard voices. Although I am not able to fully comprehend the injustices experienced by Black people, I could not stay silent; non racism is not enough, what we need is anti-racism.
I decided to actively take part in the movement, firstly in London, and then one week later in Paris.
Tuesday 9th June 2020, London (2 p.m.): On a sunny afternoon, I got off the bus and followed the soulful reggae music that was guiding me into Peckham Rye park. In the large open space, a crowd of hippy-looking bobbing heads was gathered around a makeshift stage surrounded by colourful protest posters. I sat in the grass next to some familiar faces that I recognised from the U.S embassy protest, which had taken place over the preceding weekend. For the next couple of hours, we watched an array of performances by artists who were responding to the Black Lives Matter movement.
At one point, everyone got up to dance, following the groovy layered rhythms of percussive agogô bells, rumba shakers, bongo drums and brightly shimmering cymbals. From spoken word to rap, the Babylon Chant Down protest echoed Bob Marley’s son’s 1999 album project. Except that instead of the more famous Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and the Roots, it was local British artists such as Greentea Peng, muva of Earth, Akïn Soul and Chantelle Gabriella Jazz, who were speaking out against the Babylonian system in true Rastafari spirit.
Saturday 13th June 2020, Paris (6:20 p.m.): I knelt down with other protesters, right in front of a line of policemen who were blocking the road ahead of us, to honour and mourn the countless Black lives lost to police brutality and racism around the world. 8 minutes and 46 seconds: A moment of silence acting as a visceral reminder of the unjustly brutal aggression that George Floyd had to endure. Then followed the sound of explosive shots in the distance. I suddenly found myself sprawled on the ground; my face completely flat against the hard surface. Someone had tripped over me whilst caught up in the chaotic mess of the distraught crowd of protesters. Everything was foggy, my eyes had started to sting, and I began to cough.
When I finally managed to get up in a confused state, I ran as fast as I could. I fled the scene, dodging the seemingly endless shower of exploding tear gas canisters that kept on falling everywhere from all sides. Amongst press photographers wearing protective attire consisting of goggles, helmets and gas masks, I witnessed a group of policemen armed with batons who were dragging a powerless man several meters across the abrasive concrete road. Luckily, unlike many others, I managed to get out of there with only a few scratches and a couple of bruises.
Exposing myself to these contrasting first-hand experiences has only been able to nurture my will to actively carry on protesting. Unnecessary outbreaks of violence initiated by the police, such as the oppressive one I endured, cannot be justified. These ever-recurring issues need to be recognised imperatively so that we can, firstly, acknowledge them, and secondly, address them accordingly. Otherwise, we will remain forever doomed to repeat the vicious cycle of history again and again.
‘When they go low, we go high.’ -Michelle Obama
Later on, that same Saturday, physical altercations had also occurred in London, despite the protest having been called off. It seems that, as the movement is justifiably growing larger, its initial peaceful character is evolving into the image of its antagonist. This transformation is foreseeable When voices are raised, beliefs and values will start to clash. At first, it may appear as if the situation is spiralling out of control; but falling is necessary in order to rise back up. This is why hope must not be lost: patience is key to sustaining momentum. We need to understand that what is demanded can only come with time. Rome was not built in a day, and the dynasty of Babylon lasted 435 years before it fell down.
‘The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright days of justice emerge.’ - Martin Luther King Jr.
Although the road to a world with equal opportunities and without social injustice may be long, it is important that the protests do not lose momentum as they inevitably expand globally. Letting our voices drown into oblivion would equate to a lost battle. This is why we should all Chant Down Babylon. It is our right to be able to raise consciousness. It is our right to have an open dialogue. It is our right to gain representation. So, ‘Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights! Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!’
Edited by Ellie Muir