How to be a Pretty Good Ally at Somebody Else's Protest
1. Get your head out of the sand. If you didn’t know there was a protest in or near your hometown till you saw somebody else’s photo on Facebook the next day, you don’t have enough justice advocates in your social media streams. If you’re white, follow people of color. If you’re straight, follow LGBTQ people. If you’re male, follow feminists. Don’t rely on traditional media to tell you what’s going on – they’ll report plenty after the fact, but not in time for you to join in. When it’s time for a protest, the prophetic voices in your Twitter/Instagram/etc. feeds will let you know.
2. Shut up and listen. It’s not necessary to generate your own response about complex social justice issues and incidents right away, or enter the conversation online. Simply pay attention and learn what people other than people just like you are experiencing in their worlds, and how they’re responding to it. “Like,” “favorite,” repost, and retweet if you like, little by little, to show that you’re listening. Listening is a spiritual practice not practiced enough by people of privilege.
3. Show up. Justice work is opportunistic. It doesn’t happen on your schedule; it’s never convenient; there’s never a perfect scenario free of complexity and murky shades of gray. When awful things happen in the world around you, you need to be ready to prioritize standing alongside the community of people who are most affected. Cancel meetings; find a babysitter; skip a meal; miss a deadline. Go with the urgency. The Holy Spirit is notoriously ignorant of our calendars.
4. Be awkward. If you’re doing it right, you will be in the minority at somebody else’s protest. You will question whether the majority really wants you there. You will wonder if they’re looking at you funny. They are, so you will try to make your body smaller and your face kinder. And in this way, you will feel what all those Somebody Elses feel all the time. And that, right there, is the beginning of solidarity. If you don’t feel awkward, check your privilege. You might not be ready to…
5. Stay out of the way and follow for a change. You are not in charge of this event; you’re not even useful to the people in charge. You’re not there to be useful. You don’t need to know the route. You don’t deserve a status report about how it’s going. You don't lead the chants. You don’t make judgments about what time it starts, or whether the people in the back can hear, or anything else. Submit to being a guest in somebody else’s space.
6. Feel all the feels. If you let go of your privilege and your need to be in control, you’ll have plenty of energy to experience the emotions of the moment. When you pass that man on the corner with his toddler on his shoulders, holding a scribbled sign that says, “Keep your hands off my baby,” you’ll cry, because you have nothing else to do. When you see couples walking hand in hand, loving each other in defiance of the system’s refusal to honor their love, you’ll exult. When you see the contorted faces of counter-protesters shouting insults at the crowd of which you are a tiny, tiny part, your head will swim with a sickening mix of sorrow and fear and anger. Your cool detachment (which you sometimes mistake for dignity, but which is more likely pride) will melt away and your heart will merge with the people you’re standing with in the moment.
7. Wear your heart on your sign. Why are you compelled to join this communal demonstration of holy unrest? Sum it up in a slogan – and preferably not an abstract slogan about the broken system. (Leave that to people who stand outside the system of which you can’t help but be a part.) When those black kids are bullied and terrorized by neighbors and police, say, “Those kids are my kids.” When law enforcement escalates a small dispute into a life-threatening quagmire, say, “PEACE, for Christ’s sake.” Put it on a sign for all the world to see.
8. Process and pray. When the protest is over, and a new day dawns, let those hours spent in solidarity be your food for thought. Remember the people you met. Peruse the selfies you took with new friends. Read through the tweets on the protest hashtag. Tell somebody, maybe a friend who’s pretty much like you, what it was like. Write a blog post – not the “look at me” kind; just the “here’s what I learned” kind. Admit that you’ve got a long way to go. Pray for justice; pray for peace; pray for all God’s dreams to come true. Pray that God begins with you.