Harbeer Sandhu
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Featured image by Jane Nguyen

Houstonians…seem unable to identify the exercise of free speech as a constitutional right and priority.

- Raj Mankad, [Where’s the] Revolution: The Changing Landscape of Free Speech in Houston


The majority of North Americans, it is sad to say, don’t really get the point of a protest. They seem to forget this country was founded on an act of property destruction (Boston Tea Party — Nevar Forget!!!) and that one of our first, original thinkers to break from European traditions, Henry David Thoreau, penned the essay — Civil Disobedience — which went on to influence MK Gandhi, who went on to influence Martin Luther King, Jr, both of whom are held up as paragons of virtue, but both of whom accomplished what they accomplished by inconveniencing some people some times.

You like the 40 hour work week (and overtime if you work more)? You like workplace regulations that protect you from harm and provide compensation if you get hurt? You like child labor laws? You like women and racial “minorities” having the right to vote? You like the ending of Jim Crow and “Separate but Equal?” You like the research that’s been done on treating AIDS? You can thank some organizers and some protestors for that — and they accomplished these things by inconveniencing people, especially themselves.

Outside the frame of all those dramatic photos you love from the Civil Rights Movement are some frustrated commuters who are thinking, “Can’t these troublemakers just get over it? What’s wrong with the back of the bus or a separate water fountain — at least they’re not forced to pick cotton anymore! I have to pick up my dry cleaning before the kids get out of school, these people are so selfish!”

I have lived in Texas for most of my life, but I still don’t understand where Texans get their “maverick rebel” self-image from. Most of the Texans and Houstonians I know are pretty content with the status quo and pretty reluctant to rock the boat. In my experience, Texans are pretty gosh darned acquiescent to authority, tell you what. Downright submissive, but strutting around with their chests puffed out.

Case in point: about 10 days ago, I shared an invitation to a local protest in solidarity with the Ferguson protests, along with the text, “If you are feeling alone in your sadness and outrage, come find solace and power in community.” The protest organizers had used an image of burning flags from Ferguson to promote that event — and that’s what knuckle-dragger trolls decided to hone in on (not that Darren Wilson and cops like him desecrate the American flag by murdering an African American male every 28 hours).

Here is a sampling of some of the comments under that post inviting people who are “feeling alone in [their] sadness and outrage” to “find solace and power in community”:

  • Have fun burning American flags because a thug was killed. Not like anybody going is a decent member of society anyway.
  • Burn all you want, just keep it in MacGregor park and try not to terrorize hard working people…
  • Leave it to Houston Press to encourage some crap like this.
  • Leave that crap in Missouri.
  • Stay classy FPH don’t promote violence!!!! [This commentor must have only one half of our bumper sticker that reads “We put the class in in class warfare.”]
  • Please don’t bring this nonsense to Houston.
  • …animals wanna sit here and destroy something…I guess us normal people can’t have nice things anymore…fuckin animals
  • Its a nice ass day in the H. Smoke a Blunt , Drink a beer , do something but we don’t need to contribute…
  • Why don’t you encourage citizens to protest all injustices? Free Press Houston is the same as all other publicity whore race baiters. [Again, look at the post to see where I reply to this inbred troglodyte with 10 links to recent stories we’ve done on issues ranging from Net Neutrality to Climate Change to war in Gaza to the Arab Spring and yes, even police brutality — pre-Ferguson.]

That said, I regret that I was not able to make it because I was out of town, and the FPTV crew was not able to make it because police was blocking traffic and they were in a car. Nonetheless, I’m happy to share a video by FPH contributor Eric DeBruin, as well as stills from local educator Jane Nguyen, FPH contributor Nick Cooper, friend of FPH and sometimes contributor Robinson Block, and Rice University undergrad Amiri Boykin.  More images (for which I do not have permission) can be found on the FB event page.

Following Eric’s video there is a song by Antibalas which may or may not provide a good soundtrack for picture-viewing, and I’m going to close out this post with a video from January 23, 1991, when ACT UP NY shut down New York’s Grand Central Station as part of their “Day of Desperation” to demand “Money for AIDS, not for war!” which is quite possibly the best use of civil disobedience during my lifetime, prior to the 1999 Seattle WTO protests.

I stopped going to marches and rallies in Houston because the idea of marching down the sidewalk chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” was just pathetic. I am sorry I missed this one, though.

So, here you go, lovers and haters. Enjoy these images of a group of people who have had ENOUGH of being bullied, harassed, and then blamed for their own ill treatment by “public servants.” I’m so proud of these Houstonians who finally left the sidewalk to march in the street, to claim the public space that is theirs, to slow down and stop traffic just to say:

Enough is enough. We will not allow this to be swept under the rug again.

To the people hating on YouTube and FB: This is what democracy looks like, and this is what you were ridiculing, decrying and poo-pooing. “Animals.” Yes, animals demanding dignity from a system designed to deny them their humanity.

To the people saying Michael Brown, Jr. is not worthy of remembrance — know that this is not just about Mike Brown, that an African American man is killed by the police in the USA every 28 hours, and just a few weeks ago, in the town of Jasper, Texas, where James Byrd, Jr. was dragged to his death behind the bumper of a pickup truck, a grand jury “no billed” two police officers for beating a compliant woman they picked up on traffic warrant — from her home, even though she was making payments on it — in the city jail. Furthermore, as the Congressman from Missouri City, Al Green states in response to clueless pundit Joe Scarborough, “Washington wasn’t perfect, but we honor him. Jefferson wasn’t perfect; we honor him.”

You will see some signs drawing similarities between a place called Ayotzinapah and Ferguson. For those who don’t know, Ayotzinapah is the town in Mexico where 43 students were picked up by the police and disappeared, most likely handed over to the local drug cartel, which has sparked a movement against the police/drug traffickers’ alliance in that country. For which there was a solidarity protest in Houston this past Wednesday.

And finally, for those looking to get involved, here are some links to upcoming protests: today at UH at 1 pm, today at TSU at 4 pm, tonight at city hall at 6 pm, tomorrow at the Galleria at noon. Peace!


And a soundtrack for photo-viewing, if you like:

And photos: