On several nights this week, people have gathered in downtown Portland to protest a Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the St. Louis County police officer who shot and killed 18-year old Michael Brown months ago, in Ferguson, Missouri. The protesters chant “Hands up, Don’t Shoot!” and “I am Mike Brown!” Marching with their hands up down W. Burnside Street, intertwining on the slick sidewalks with thanksgiving shoppers at Whole Foods and Powell’s Books, kids starting off their long weekend at the Crystal Ballroom or American Apparel, and the homeless sitting up in doorways.
Some marchers carry their bikes, as if they’ve joined on a whim. On the other side of the street a dozen or so cops wait on running motorcycles, some look tense, others tired and bored. A helicopter circles low over downtown, not a wholly unusual sound for Portland, but an immediately noticeable presence, the blades sounding like the manic flapping of a flag in a storm, not loud but steady. Our city is fairly small with little traffic at night, a quiet downtown where you can hear the wind, and the chopper is not drowned out by anything else. It’s a little disconcerting, like hearing a baby cry at a bar. You’re not sure exactly why the helicopter is, but it is there, above you.
Across the country, in cities large and small, people are protesting in solidarity, ranging from peaceful to violent, but everywhere police are in tow. Today on Black Friday as the shopping craze ensued, protesters were there at the malls and the popular transit stations calling for boycotts of the annual consumer tradition. From a Walmart in Ferguson to Macy’s in NYC, protesters tried to galvanize the public in support of a greater cause. Some lay on the floors of the stores, others stood outside the entryways and chanted. People in London are protesting outside the U.S. Embassy.
Tonight in Portland there will be a march at 6pm. This will be the first protest I join. I am going for a few reasons. I believe in people and being physically present for a cause can make you feel closer to those whose faces you’ve never seen, but whose voices rise with yours, becoming one in a fully rounded echo, deep and throaty, husky and sweet, and without touching, you feel like you’ve exchanged a hearty, reliable handshake.
I have been thinking about the ways in which we can all be heard this week, for those unable or unwilling for whatever reasons to join the march. How to connect in our solitude, too.
Submit to Stand Up. Ambit Magazine will host an open submission of artistic content, from free verse poetry to videography. Submit what you’d like on the expanding issues spawned by Michael Brown. Ambit Mag wants to extend the expression of support, experience and concern to people who find their voices there in the more private, quiet moments and places of solitude as well as the engagement of public gatherings. Submissions can be made anonymously or with your name and location. Selected entries will be published on Hands Up Submit, a new column devoted to this very open callout.
The curbs of the city streets
grow above the roots of trees
whose leaves fall, wet in November,
slick with dirt but bright yellow still.
Spreading in every direction like
stubborn century-old footprints on deviating walks,
drunk and sober. Proud, humble, lost.
What do I know of the view from those curbs?
Though I know the shade of the trees,
have breathed deep, this shared life
of too many strangers.