Photo Credit: WBUR
Sol-i-dar-i-ty: a noun meaning unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest. I personally believe that solidarity means showing the same support whether you are directly a part of the action or not. It seems to me that a lot of people choose to convey surface level “solidarity” like posting a black square or posing at a protest for Instagram likes. They don’t have to face the action or purposely choose not to, which is an extreme privilege a lot of humans across this globe cannot afford right now. From Palestine to Colombia, we are seeing how people’s rights are being violated at devastating rates. From being forcefully removed from their homes, to being shot in the street by police and not even making it home, the violence people face globally. Which isn’t far off from what Black people in amerikkka face daily. So why do “we the people” choose to continue showing up only when we want to and never how we should? Why do we get to choose what solidarity means when the definition never truly changes?
I continue to be baffled by an experience shared by my comrades and I at a protest for Colombia about a month ago here in D.C. Now, I want to preface that protesting here in the U.S. isn’t nearly the same as what we are currently seeing play out across the country of Colombia. But the police are still the threat, regardless of where we are. Which leads me to the main issue of what I experienced protesting for my people on May 8th, 2021.
It had been over a week that citizens across Colombia took to the streets after an outrageous tax reform was passed by president Ivan Duque causing the final eruption of resistance from the people. I had received a flyer for a planned “protest” for Saturday, May 8th in D.C. to express solidarity to my people fighting in Colombia. The flyer stated “Colombia necesita de tu ayuda”, “Colombia needs your help,” and called on the Latino community to show up for Colombia. After experiencing so many protests in the U.S. and also seeing the numerous videos of protests being attacked by police happening throughout Colombia, I was ready for an energy that was blatantly going to be “FUCK THE POLICE.” It was reported that in the first week alone police & ESMAD (a mobile anti-disturbance squadron created by former president Uribe) had murdered almost 40 people and disappeared the same amount if not more. There were reports and recorded footage of the police hunting down innocent civilians in poor neighborhoods, kidnapping and killing whoever they could find. So again, the projected emotion for me was what I had already been feeling and screaming for the last 10 months prior…to abolish the police!
As I arrived at Black Lives Matter Plaza, I was eager to find a large and organized group protesting with passion and anger for our Colombian brothers and sisters. But instead I discovered a somewhat timid yet cheerful group, singing chants and dancing on the sidewalk. It brought me frustration to not see the protestors taking up space, doing all they could to bring focus and attention to them in order to spread awareness and messages of hope for change, revolution, and resistance against these systems of oppression. Had I been one of the only people to witness what was happening to our people? I knew there was heavy censorship happening, but it seemed like hardly anyone there had been updated on just how violent things had become within Colombia’s borders.
My frustration directed me to a bullhorn and led me to deliver an impromptu speech, which I gave partially in Spanish and English. I immediately expressed to everyone that the streets we were standing on were paid for by us for us and that they are therefore ours to take up space in. As people trickled into the intersection that 11 months prior had been filled with tear gas, screams of comrades, explosions of flash bangs, armed soldiers and officers, an infamous MPD officer made his point to almost side swipe two of my photographer comrades with his squad car. He then proceeded to roll his window down and verbally antagonize us and continue to drive through the intersection as he watched people attempting to take the space. As he passed, a protestor began to lash out at my comrades and I, accusing us of antagonizing the police and causing disruption to “their” peaceful protest. Sadly more protestors agreed with the man who continued by saying how MPD had been so “kind” and “cooperative” with them by “allowing” them to protest. They praised the police for “escorting” and “protecting” as they marched to BLM Plaza. I was in utter disbelief to say the least, as well as my comrades who the officer had just almost hit.
The moment almost became a blur. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing, hearing, experiencing all at once. Weren’t we there to show solidarity to those being hunted by the same forces that these protestors suddenly began to defend? Not try to defund? It was as if the whole point of the protest went out the window once we began to show even a mild resistance to kops. We were three people attempting to demonstrate solidarity that was requested, only to be denied when we conveyed natural reactions and understandable emotions towards kops, due to our own experiences over the last year. And to make matters worse, the same protester who had accused us of antagonizing, attempted to gaslight us all by stating that he marched with us last year when George Floyd was murdered by the police. The nerve this man had to defend kops in that moment while dragging George Floyd’s name into the conversation to justify his inactions only further deemed his point to be pointless, because we were demanding an end to police then too!
Sadly these racist remarks and responses are nothing to be surprised by when it comes to the Latino community, especially from white passing Latinos. We’d witnessed multiple examples of blatant misogyny, classism, and sheer hypocrisy displayed towards both of my comrades, a Black man and a Peruvian woman. People asked if we were even Colombian, if we were even Latino. How does it make sense to request allyship, to ask for solidarity, but then react in such ways that indicate selfishness and centering? There are clear connections from kops in Amerikkka to kops in Colombia, and all across the globe for that matter. U.S imperialism fuels these wars, these internal conflicts and struggles throughout the world. Colombia isn’t the only place where citizens are being oppressed.
So again, how can you defend the police here in Amerikkka while simultaneously protesting against police violence in another country? Is it because it’s finally becoming personal that you feel a stronger inclination to “speak out” against it? But you consciously choose when and when not to show up for Black lives? Or will you use your so-called “allyship” as a shield when you are in the midst of doing or saying something overtly racist? And yet you still hold this expectation of solidarity from everyone else when your community is facing police terror. If you ask me, that doesn’t exactly align with the meaning of solidarity.
For Latinos, speaking out against racism, sexism, the government, classism, etc is often a difficult conversation to have. But it is one that we must fight to normalize within our culture. We cannot say we are hoping for change or claim to be revolutionaries if we do not face our own people, our own problems, our own isms, and especially our own governments. It is a fight that begins inside and at home with our mothers and fathers, our abuelos, our tias and tios. We cannot expect change if we are not constantly doing our part to evoke that change where we can be most effective. And we absolutely cannot expect others to support us in our fight for change and peace if we are not making sure to do everything we are able to to reciprocate the same energy and compassion back. There is a lot of learning and unlearning to do within the Latino community, which is so deeply connected to and rooted in white supremacy. But if we cannot face that truth, we will never see an end to the global struggle for freedom.
I want to leave you with a short but powerful few sentences constructed by my good friend, known as Stonie, my Peruvian comrade I spoke of earlier. “It is important to know that we as Latinos are classist, we are nationalist to our own detriment. We are programmed to believe in and uphold settler colonialism within our native countries. We have to recognize these things if we are going to join the fight for liberation, otherwise we are doing the state’s job in keeping the people divided, disconnected and disenfranchised.”
To my Latino community as well as anyone reading this who is not Black, Brown or Indigenous, continue to do the work no matter how difficult it can be. In the words of Assata Shakur, “we must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Sara is a Colombian woman & aspiring abolitionist who started her activism in DC in 2017 marching alongside indigenous communities for Standing Rock, and dove deeper into the work of solidarity and justice for Black Liberation last year in May 2020. As marches grew smaller throughout the country last year Sara continued her activism by supporting local mutual aids, becoming a core member of a local activist bookclub, and helping coordinate a healing space for local protestors. Sara believes in the concept of interconnectedness between all human beings and the fight for true freedom. She strives to see change not only in her lifetime but for the future generations to come.