Boarded Up Downtown
By Christine Clements
During the first week after the killing of George Floyd, our group started discussing what kind of public statement to put on our website. One member challenged us with the question: “What is in your hearts really?” I shared the pain of seeing what’s going on around me. And, as a white person, realizing that in my own life I’ve never stepped foot on that mythic “level playing field.” None of us has.
One thing we cohousers spend a lot of time on is grappling with the full emotional effects of issues. So I suggested a couple of our usual approaches—meeting in small groups to talk about racism, and sharing individual statements on this blog. Then I wrote, “We can put our physical selves out there at the protest gatherings. Anyone who can join me at one in central Boston, please contact me. So far I’ve been too chicken to go out there alone.”
Well, reading back those three lines after pressing Send revealed an underlying truth. Of course, simply being able to choose whether I put my physical self into an uncomfortable situation is not an option that all my fellow citizens share. For many it’s just their everyday reality.
I live in the North End, walking distance from City Hall and the Boston Common. The next time I saw helicopters circling overhead (and it wasn’t raining), I headed in that direction. The bad timing of cowardice—I found no gatherings. I walked through my neighborhood, across the Greenway and Haymarket, past City Hall, around the Common, in front of the state house, back through Downtown Crossing and Fanueil Hall. A few picnickers were out on the Common in the sunshine, and the unhoused who are always there.
There were also a lot of National Guard Military Police and Boston Police officers. I counted five armored tanks. I read with new eyes the plaque memorializing the Boston Massacre
—a military police action in 1770. And many businesses had plywood over their windows. Because of actual broken windows? Not all of them, some just out of fear, like my local bank branch on Hanover Street.
There’s a bodily reaction to seeing physical evidence of what a police state might look like—fear, tension, hesitation to act freely.
On Sunday morning the radio show “On Being” featured author Resmaa Menakem
, talking about that bodily reaction and encouraging us to step into it. It’s an hour long, but I highly recommend it. You can find it here