Between the Waves

It happened with the Occupy movement, too. As the first huge wave of protest crashed against the steel and concrete walls of the system and began its churning, tumbling retreat to the sea the cry went up that the chance to make a difference was slipping away. In fact the tide had only begun to rise. Its tremors, still expanding through the bedrock. Its slogan “we are the 99%” just beginning to reshape the narrative – and the consciousness – of the world.

That’s how it is with tides. The waves of a rising tide roll onto the sand and slide way, rise and slide. Each time (or every few times) reaching a little farther. We’re hearing it now. “The window of opportunity is closing,” we’re told, for making changes to the police system in this country. No, societal change comes on the tides, not through the window.

We have reached a turning point for sure but not the high water mark. The waves have been building for some time. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Jamar Clark, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor. The storm surge that followed the murder of George Floyd was so massive it breached the flood wall and spilled into city streets across the country. The surge is ebbing but the tide has a ways to go. That’s a good thing because the changes we need won’t be conceded willingly. There have been scores of reforms hastily rushed into place in the face of public rage. But the police system is one of the central pillars of the empire, an enforcement of its racial and class boundaries. You don’t get to take that down in six months. The window of opportunity is an imaginary one.

Between fifteen and twenty million people have marched this year under the banner of Black lives, And that’s just in the US. In a major departure the demands resonating in the streets are no longer for the ineffective reforms of the past. The call to dismantle, defund, abolish has rung out loudly across the land – and echoed around the world.

We find ourselves scrambling to regain our balance in the churning waters while reaching out to the many who are stepping out for the first time. During a global pandemic. Under a fascist threat. Learning from our history is vital. It always is. Last summer, collect observations I’ve made during the long struggle, I designed a chart titled “The Emotional Chemistry of Rebellions.” In it I described what happens when the initial huge outpouring of rage begins to cool: “When change doesn’t come quickly or there are setbacks it can lead to disappointment which, underneath, is the fear that our dreams will not be realized. This can cause us to turn on each other.” This is the moment we are in. Be tender.

The waves come in and the waves go out. But they each last only a moment and they are not the drivers of the tide, only its followers. That honor goes to a much older presence. One that has seen much more. That was there, shining down on the forest conspiracies of Haiti, the defense alliance of the Paha Sapa and last week’s protest marches in St. Louis. However much we are tugged this way and that by the waters at our feet, the tides belong to the moon.

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