Examining the Progress of Recent Activism and Protests


Protesters in front of Hall of Justice, June 3, 2020.

Powell Nielsen, Reporter

Last May, a man by the name of George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers, an ugly scene that was caught on a video. This murder sparked the age-old debate of white on black hate crimes, police violence, and racism in America. 

It has been nearly a year since people took to the streets to either demand justice for Floyd or show support for police officers in America. The two sides clashed, both through peaceful protests and violence that resulted in many being injured and some even being killed in the demonstrations across America. 

The Derek Chauvin trial has ended, and for many, justice was served for this specific case. The real question is if individuals will continue to pursue the ideologies brought to the spotlight through the BLM protests. Will the talks of defunding the police continue to be at the forefront of our law enforcement discussions, or will individuals take a softer approach now that there has been a change in leadership across the country? The presidential transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden can certainly be viewed as a factor for possible changes in societal uproar.

Last summer, I took some time to hone my journalistic skills in the field covering various BLM protests across Marin County and San Francisco. I learned a lot about the 2020 form of civil disobedience and was able to get a real feel for the true scope and size of the BLM movement in the Bay Area. 

I was able to meet with a number of different people protesting for a common cause, consisting of different age groups, colors, and socio-economic statuses. However, from person to person the movement meant different things, and some had far more “radical” ideas than others. 

Now that a year has passed, many of the individuals who flooded their social media with support for the BLM cause have quieted down, including those who took part in peaceful protests around Marin County.  On the other hand, a lot of individuals decided to continue with the ferocity of the summer throughout this year and into the next. 

Kaia Sheean, a senior at Novato High and lifelong activist, weighed in on her experiences last summer.

“I went to about 15 protests, all were very memorable,” said Sheean. 

However, some protests were different from others. 

“One that was very Marin to me was the one at TL High School. We kinda went around the neighborhood where it was very empty because it’s the suburbs,” Sheean said.

Sheean didn’t feel like the protests involved in Marin County really reflected the origin of the BLM Movement. 

“It was mostly white people, some of the people even started thanking the cops,” said Sheean

Sheean had different views on how the BLM movement should be organized than the many Terra Linda protesters that lined the calm suburban streets that day. As a journalist who covered that event, I noticed a difference between the Marin County protesters and those who protested in the city and in areas of different socioeconomic levels. 

For instance, the racial makeup was overwhelmingly white at Terra Linda, and many of the protesters were uncomfortable with more extreme protesters who supported the abolition of the police. Furthermore, many of the marchers left after the initial walk, leaving a small group in attendance for the bulk of the speeches by the organizers and youth who felt incredibly passionate for their cause. 

On the other hand, Sheean also attended urban protests that were increasingly different. 

“I went to the protest June 8th on the bridge, there were about 10,000 people,” said Sheean. 

All the urban protests had a far larger turnout, and a much different attitude toward the cause they were marching for. 

“People were more angry and more passionate because they were from the city and probably experienced more police brutality and understood what the meaning of the protest was,” said Sheean. 

Perhaps the fact that the turnout was simply larger caused a difference in the dispositions of the protesters. Yet, location also likely played a huge factor. Last summer, I was able to attend many suburban and urban protests and see the similarities and differences between them. While there was a lot more passion and radical ideas expressed in the larger urban protests, there also were simply more people which accounts for more ideas. 

Also, urban areas tend to be more politically left than suburban areas, thus fewer people and more centrist marchers in the makeup of the suburban crowds. The comparison between the Terra Linda march and the marches in both Marin City and San Francisco were staggering. Not only were the larger marches organized better, but the ideas expressed by the speakers throughout the protests were far more radical than those in the smaller marches. Furthermore, the racial makeup of the smaller marches were an overwhelming majority white, who were marching in solidarity rather than feeling like victims of a systemic issue. This can probably contribute to the major differences between both sets of activists. 

Another heavily involved activist of the summer marches, San Marin sophomore Mahalia Morgan also weighed in. 

“I feel like the people speaking in Marin City and San Rafael compared to here (Novato), had so much more to put towards the conversation,” said Morgan. 

Morgan felt like the message of BLM had to get across to multiple groups of people in different ways. 

“But, I feel the way I was putting across my message, and the way people in Marin City and San Rafael were putting across their message; mine was easier for a white audience to digest,” said Morgan. 

Morgan brings up many good points. A white audience might not take too kindly to a group of people of color confronting them as bystanders to police brutality and institutionalized racism. Any movement, if it wants to be successful, needs to reach multiple audiences from different backgrounds. Not all approaches to enact change and support can be initiated with the same tactics.

As we look ahead to this summer, many wonder if a real institutional change will happen. Much of the activism of the summer has died down, which can leave some to wonder if the strong motivations of last summer’s activists have fallen by the wayside. 

“This really is just the beginning, and there is so much work to be done,” said Morgan. 

Sheean also agreed with this sentiment. 

“I think the fight will continue and I think it will sort out and filter out the people who were performative,” she said. 

While Sheean and Morgan don’t speak for an entire nationwide movement, their thoughts do speak for a younger generation bent on promoting activism and standing up for what they believe is right. 

While the trial of Derek Chauvin provided many with relief that justice had been served, many activists, including Morgan and Sheean, have expressed that the verdict is incomparable to the many deaths of black and brown individuals at the hands of law enforcement. Those who still cling to the initial ideas of the BLM movement are ready to fight until a systemic change is enacted on a legislative and judicial level. 

However, many of the summer activists of last June and July have gone silent on social media and returned to their lives. Who knows where the death of George Floyd takes our country in the long run? All we can cling to is the fact that our country was nearly brought to its knees when confronted with an age-old issue of racism within law enforcement. Some are ready to take the streets every day if that is what it takes to enact their ideas of systemic change, while others feel differently about law enforcement and believe in protecting officers who are simply doing their job. 

There is no easy answer to the racial debate with law enforcement in this country, and it may take many years to uncover a solution.