On Monday as I was marching in Chicago against the closures of 54 schools in the city which target Chicago’s black and poorest neighborhoods, I had a realization that really has allowed me to justify my actions and the actions of so many.
As we were marching in the streets, and I was in front of the march, one of the cop cars pulled in front of the march and ordered that we get on the sidewalk. Since I was in the front of the march and was leading the chants, I was face with the decision to stay in the street or to walk on the sidewalk and have the others follow me.
I looked at the officer and the saw the look of annoyance on face with those of us who were marching, and it occurred to me that he and the law were not on our side, and only served the interests that were against us and the policies that we seek to destroy. In a quick instance, I turned my direction away from the sidewalk and walked around his car so I could stay in the streets, and sure enough the march followed.
To many, such actions would seem childish or even unnecessary, but indeed they were necessary.
Once we arrived to Lasalle Street, they had more cops and were able to keep us on the sidewalk, but eventually we peacefully stepped off the sidewalk and took the streets. Despite the constant threats from police of arrests, we continued to march on the street. One of the bike cops rode next to me and asked me a fairly simple question which was “Why can’t you just stay on the sidewalk?” Before I could reply, the officer rode away.
There is a simple, yet complex answer to that very question. Why couldn’t we stay on the sidewalk? A simple answer would be in terms of logistics, the streets allow us to travel faster and give us the ability to ignore traffic signals as well as fit more people in more condense areas which allows the march to stay together easier. But that is not the answer that I would have given or have used to justify our actions.
When we are on the sidewalk, we do not create disruption; we do not block traffic, or paint an image that demonstrates against the social normality of citizens simply following orders and following traffic signals, but instead showed that the social norm could be challenged.
Disruption, if done effectively and peacefully, is what creates change, it’s what influences new ideas. Causing disorder for those who commit wrong doings, is what creates pressure, it’s what creates heat on politicians and law makers to do the right thing.
If King or Gandhi simply obeyed the law and never went to jail, where would the movements of the past be today? The unjust laws that we blindly obey will never change. If Rosa Parks would have sat in the back of the bus like she was supposed to, would the Montgomery bus boycott exist and would the desegregation of buses ever happened? My guess would be no.
Yes, many people who practiced civil disobedience have gone to jail, and today, the rise of civil disobedience especially by young people thanks to movements like the Occupy Movement has shown that there is a dramatic shift in power.
When we continued down Lasalle Street, we finally met up with the south side march that was marching on Lasalle and was forced on the sidewalk by police. Once we saw them, we were right in front of city hall, and when they saw that we have already taken the streets, they rushed passed the police blockades and broke free even though the police tried to push them back.
At this point, both marches have taken the streets on the both sides and as a result, we completely shut down traffic at all four ways of the intersection. The spirit of the crowd was joyful because at last both marches have met up after 3-days’ of marching, but that joy, to me, came also from another aspect of the situation.
The police had lost control of the crowds, and as we were hugging, high-fiving, and celebrating, the street was shut down, and the law didn’t have the power to stop us. And that small moment of freedom allowed us to feel that for once, the people have the power, the people can change the law, the people have a voice, and that the people will win.
To me and many others like me, disruption is a beautiful thing because disruption, whether you like it or not, is what creates change bad or good. Disruption does not allow the norm of injustice to continue, but rather inspires hope for a different norm. The norms we have today came from the disruption of another norm of the past. Whether you support breaking the law, it is important to remember that disruption is a necessary part of an ever-evolving society.