POLITICS

Why I Protest

HuffPost asked protesters why they took to the streets. Some were first-time protesters, others took their children, and all of them said they wanted to see change.

Protesters across the country and the world are not going home until their message is heard. The death of George Floyd, the issue of police brutality and the fight against racism have inspired people from all backgrounds, faiths and ages to take to the streets to demand justice.

HuffPost collected more than 100 responses from participants across the country — from Boston to Kansas to Oregon to Ohio to North Carolina and everywhere in between. We also received responses from protesters in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, France and the Netherlands.

HuffPost asked each of the respondents about their experiences at protests. Some were first-time protesters, others took their children, and all said they wanted to see change. We asked protesters to tell us why they protested. Here are some of the stories. 

These interviews were condensed and edited for clarity.

Joseph Williams, 52, Retired Police Detective, New Jersey  

A former police detective, Army combat veteran and social science teacher, Williams has seen firsthand what it means to witness and fight injustice ― and when justice is denied.

After the Camden, New Jersey, police department was dismantled and taken over by the county, Williams became increasingly concerned with the new department’s policing tactics, which he called problematic and aggressive. So he retired earlier than planned and went into teaching.

Last week, Williams attended a protest at Philadelphia’s  City Hall with his 20-year-old daughter. He chanted, marched and kneeled.

After the protest, Williams said he “felt a sense of relief. I had to scream. I had to yell. I had to get the words out. I was proud of what I did and my daughter did. I was proud to see so many different people come together,” he said.

“I protest because I care. I care about my future. I care about the future of this country. I protest because I am an African American man who has seen too many violent things done.”

The Rev. Dana Patterson Nelson (second from right)
The Rev. Dana Patterson Nelson (second from right)

Dana Nelson, 48, Educator and Minister, Kansas

Dana Nelson and her husband are veteran protesters. The couple often discusses their many experiences: nearly being arrested after the HIV/AIDS awareness protests in the 1980s, protesting the Rodney King acquittal, dodging tear gas and demonstrating during college days in 1990s, marching during the civil rights and Million Man March as clergy. Just last year, they protested against family separations at the border.  

“I always would teach my students that they’re the right reasons to go to jail. And if it’s civil disobedience or because you’re objecting to something that you don’t like in the government, you have the right to protest and to assemble,” Nelson said. 

It was natural that they wanted to model their beliefs for their children. Last Sunday, Nelson took her children — who were hesitant at first — to their local protest. Now, she said, they are ready to go to the next one and are constantly asking more questions about their rights. 

“I protest because I’m a mother, I’m a wife, I’m an educator, a minister and a person who cares about the future of humanity,” she said.

Cara Fratianni
Cara Fratianni

Cara Fratianni, 29, Registered Nurse, California

Cara Fratianni wanted to protest but also to contribute her skills. She is an advanced practice registered nurse specializing in emergency medicine and critical care. She painted her white coat with “Black Lives Matter” and volunteered medical relief to injured protesters. During a  San Diego protest, she brought sterile gauze, Band-Aids  and spray bottles mixed with milk of magnesia to help with tear gas.

“I protest because I want the world to be a better place if I have children,” she said. “I don’t want them to grow up like this, and for the kids growing up right now, I want the world to be better for them.”

 Fred Chavis
Fred Chavis

Fred Chavis, 29, Teacher, Maryland

When Fred Chavis protested in Maryland and in Washington, all he could think about was his middle school students. He knew if he wanted to see change happen, it had to start in his own community, and it had to be for his students. 

“For my kids, I just wanted to show them what it is I do and what they mean to me,” he said. “I don’t want them to think that I only do this in the classroom, but I do this in the community. I’m always there for my kids.”

As a Black man, Chavis knows firsthand what it means to be judged. 

“They don’t know that I’m a teacher, they don’t know that I’m a coach. They don’t know anything about me, other than their own personal bias,” Chavis told HuffPost. “That’s what I want to dismantle this belief that Black men are dangerous or that we’re violent. “

“That’s why I was out there. So my kids can know that this is what a Black man can accomplish, and this is what we have to do to make things safe.”

Gabriel Smith
Gabriel Smith

Gabriel Smith, 29, Social Justice Educator, Georgia

Gabriel Smith was arrested with 40 to 50 other protesters on June 1 during an Atlanta protest, despite trying his best to follow police orders.

“Once I was arrested, I didn’t really feel any fear, because I knew that what I was there for was the right thing,” Smith told HuffPost. 

He was issued a pedestrian in roadway ticket and released after curfew, a move he argued was strategic by the police as they knew he could get arrested again. Since he wasn’t able to access his belongings — including his wallet, phone and house keys — until the office opened the next morning, he was forced to sleep outside that night.

Smith called the entire experience extraordinarily frustrating. 

“I protest because something needs to change. Society needs to change,” he said. “We keep going through the same, you know, rut of police violence and outreach in the community, and then nothing happens. And it repeats over and over again. So something needs to change.”

Barghav Sivaguru
Barghav Sivaguru

Barghav Sivaguru, 22, Recent Graduate, Illinois

It was important to Barghav Sivaguru as an Indian American to talk to his parents about the racism faced by the Black community — not just because they faced racism themselves, but because he knew that in order to be an ally he had to recognize that he also had the privilege as a person of color. 

“It’s easy for us to sit on the sidelines and act like these things don’t affect us when Black people are disproportionately targeted by the police and are subjected to police brutality,” he said.

“For me, it was important to say, ‘I recognize the difference. I recognize my privilege, and I want to go out and do something about it. I want to stand up and speak out for the people in this country that are the most targeted and the most oppressed,’” he added.

Sivaguru’s parents — who defied their castes in India to marry — had a basic understanding of the effects of inequality. Last week, Sivaguru’s mother joined him on the frontlines of their local protest in central Illinois. 

“I protest because it’s not only my right, it’s my duty to speak out in every way that I can when I see injustice. Right now is a moment where we all can,” he said.

Ross Helart
Ross Helart

Ross Helart, 28, Nonprofit Director, New York

Ross Helart grew up in a conservative Republican family and has multiple family members who work for the police. For the longest time, he largely avoided politics and controversial topics with them.

But all of that changed when he saw the footage of George Floyd’s death. Last weekend, Helart attended his first protest. He knew some of his family members would disagree with his participation. 

But as a queer person, Helart knew that he could no longer be silent. 

“If you cannot have compassion and think about how mad and angry you would be if there was an injustice happening to your family — and you can’t understand why people are as outraged as they are today — then you need to take a good look in the mirror and figure out what’s going on,” Helart said.

Cyntelia Abrams
Cyntelia Abrams

Cyntelia Abrams, 37, Digital Strategist, Georgia

It was important for Cyntelia Abrams to take her 8- and 6-year-old children with her to protests. She wanted to counter the images they saw on television of Black men and women being killed. On June 1, the family joined a peaceful protest, and her children picked up the chants with full conviction: “No justice. No peace!” When they stopped outside of a jail building, Abrams made sure her children heard their chants, too.

“I didn’t want them to grow up and be afraid to protest,” Abrams said. “I also wanted to show them that you can protest with passion and with power, and you can use your voice and use your presence to impact change, and you don’t have to have to hurt anybody in the process.”

“I protest because there’s still work to be done. I protest for my ancestors, who have been protesting for decades. I protest for the future,” Abrams said.

Adriana Allen, 27, Paralegal, New York

Adriana Allen has been struggling to find the words to describe how she feels. She’s grieving and hurting for her community. She said attending a protest was the only cathartic way to express emotions that have been overwhelming her.

“I protest because I feel like I’ve been protesting my whole life. I feel like I have had to fight for every space that I take up, make it known that I deserve a seat at the table,”  Allen said. 

“I deserve to be here, my voice matters my thoughts matter my opinion matter. They mean something. This protest is a way for me to finally get my voice out to finally tell the world that I’m here that this matters,” Allen said. 

Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg
Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg

Yohanna Kinberg, 47, Rabbi, Washington 

Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg knew exactly how she was going to spend her Sabbath. She put on her prayer shawl and went to the local protest, knowing it was important she show up as a Jewish woman. She thought about her congregation, which included Black men, and knew that if she proclaimed herself a leader in her community, she had to prove it on the ground.

“I protest because I want to be a manifestation of God’s love in this world and the biblical injunction to love my neighbor as myself,” Kinberg said.

Yng-Ru Chen's husband and daughter
Yng-Ru Chen's husband and daughter

Yng-Ru Chen, 41, Arts Strategist, Boston

Growing up in the Taiwanese diaspora, Yng-Ru Chen learned about oppression, colonialism, and political bullying at a very young age. Her country is always fighting for freedom. 

Those lessons are why she and her husband took their two children to a Boston protest. But the conversation about racism didn’t end there. She said that it’s important for her to talk to her children about anti-racism every day and that the work isn’t just about a protest. It’s always about standing up for people who do not have the rights they are supposed to have. It’s about long-term work.

“I protest because it’s the right thing to do,” Chen said.

Noel Williams in London
Noel Williams in London

Noel Williams, 29, Policy And Campaign Manager, London

As a Black man in London, Noel Williams doesn’t need to be an American to understand the racism against Black individuals.

“The link between British imperialism and Black slavery and colonization and oppression has been there for so long, I guess, America was just a catalyst,” Williams said. “The similarities and the solidarity we have comes from the way the world was built after slavery and colonization.”

Williams said he is heartened to see the vast turnout by people from all backgrounds all over the world. He urges those same people to take that energy back home and use it at work and at home. In order to seek justice for George Floyd, the movement is about justice for Black communities beyond the U.S.

“It’s not just about the Black people that are out protesting,” he said. “But Black people feel empowered that other people are protesting with us, too. … We are all people fighting to push the agenda for Black people, and I think that’s what I take absolute pride in worldwide.”

Kaitlyn Devereaux
Kaitlyn Devereaux

Kaitlyn Devereaux, 27, Retail Management, California

Kaitlyn Devereaux cried the day after hearing about George Floyd and immediately thought about the Black men in her family, including her father and brother. She said that her family is trying to keep it together and that the latest murder of a Black man at the hands of police has taken a mental toll on them all.

“Every human on this planet has the inherent need to feel safe. It’s in our biology. And that’s it, and that’s a concept that should not be that hard to understand,” she said. “We want to feel safe in our communities. We want to feel understood by our communities. We want to feel protected, and we want to feel loved, and we want to be able to exist.”

Devereaux emphasized that fighting for safety isn’t a political issue, and those who don’t agree with the protesters fail to understand that.

“I protest because Black men and women have a right to take up space,” she said. “We are allowed to exist. We are allowed to live. We are allowed to breed. We have a human inherent right to exist. We have to fight through that, and it’s horrific that we even have to fight for that right to exist and to feel safe.” 

Desire Taylor
Desire Taylor

Desire Taylor, 24, Actress, Ohio

Desire Taylor knew it was important to join the peaceful protests and to stand up for anti-racism. She didn’t expect to be tear-gassed six times by police. She was temporarily blinded while shots went off in the background. She was worried she was going to get trampled by the crowd.

Thankfully, she made it out all right and took a few days off. But she knew she had to go back. The fight for justice was bigger than her injuries, she said.

“I protest because I don’t have a choice. I need to make sure that me and everyone that looks like me deserves to have a chance to live, deserves protection. I need to show that we matter. That’s why I protest,” Taylor said.

Juliana Jung
Juliana Jung

Juliana Jung, 28, Nanny, Pennsylvania

Juliana Jung drove more than an hour to the nearest protest last week. She was worried about contracting the coronavirus in a large gathering, but she also knew it was incredibly important to attend.

As an Asian American woman, Jung said that it was personal for her as a person of color to attend in order to send a message that racism affects all marginalized communities and that for Black individuals, it can kill.

She brought her mask and a sign and didn’t look back. She hopes more people will join her.

“We all need to be kind and come from a place of wanting to understand and start a dialogue, not get angry and defensive,” Jung said. “I protest because I just can’t not.”

Ashley Gantt (from left), Iman Abid,  Stanley Martin and Stevie Vargas
Ashley Gantt (from left), Iman Abid,  Stanley Martin and Stevie Vargas

Iman Abid, Ashley Gantt, Stanley Martin, Stevie Vargas, Nonprofit Organizers, New York

Four friends, all women of color, hosted a protest of their own in Rochester, New York, where nearly 2,000 people showed up. Change starts at home, they said, which is why they started a protest instead of simply attending one.

“I protest because I don’t have a choice,” Gantt said. “We have a generation of Black and brown bodies coming behind us, and I don’t necessarily think that we’re going to break the chains of white supremacy in our generation, but I want to at least loosen that up. So when the generation behind us comes it’ll be a little bit easier.”

“I protest because if I choose to remain silent, then I’m a part of the problem, and I continue to perpetuate racism…so I need to speak up,” Abid said.

“I protest because I want to work towards normalizing standing up against the state, I want to normalize fighting back,” said Martin. “I want to normalize being able to speak out and have people know that anyone at all who wants to take a stand can do it.”

“I protest because it’s my duty,” said Vargas. “I can’t go to sleep and be ignorant to the issues that are happening in my community. I can’t go to sleep and know that people in my community are being harmed and not stand up and speak out against it and actively work every day to call it out and demand change.”

Adriana Alvarez's daughter hoists a sign through their car's sunroof.
Adriana Alvarez's daughter hoists a sign through their car's sunroof.

Adriana Alvarez, 45, Paralegal, New York

A Latina woman who fled communist Cuba, Adriana Alvarez said she didn’t immigrate to the U.S. in 2005 just to watch injustices occur here. She hopped in a car and drove to a protest while her daughter held up a sign through the sunroof. She wanted to send a message.

“We hear them, and we understand [the Black community’s] pain and want to let the world know that it’s not OK to kill Black people and that police brutality is not OK and that injustice is not OK and that Black Lives Matter,” Alvarez said.

Anita McCullough, 42, Hospital Worker, Georgia

Each time Anita McCullough logged onto Facebook, she became angrier and angrier, reminded of the death of George Floyd and the inequality faced by Black people as a whole.

She was also upset by the lack of people over age 35 among the hundreds of young people she saw protesting. 

“I wanted to put my body on the line, representative of my generation, and not just let it be the young people out there for tear gas fodder,” McCullough said.

She was motivated to go out and represent her age group and live out the ideals of her profession that calls her to serve those in need every day.

“I believe in social justice,” she said.“It also means action. If I don’t participate or engage in social justice in some way — meaning writing letters, protesting, being a therapist for those people that are in pain, putting my body on the line in some kind of way — then I don’t feel like I can call myself a social worker. That’s why I got into this profession.”

“I protest because I feel that it’s a very effective way to prompt social change,” she added.

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