June 2, 2020

Monday morning (June 1), The Recorder had impressive front-page coverage of the Saturday morning GHS Graduation and parade, the Tuesday Mahar ‘virtual’ Graduation and Friday parade, as well as the afternoon rally on the common: “Crowd seeks justice for George Floyd.” The Recorder is commended for covering the many significant happenings in our area during these challenging months of the pandemic, and the unique experiences of the graduates as well as the students and families since the schools closed.  I thank The Recorder for covering the essential workers dedicated efforts as well as the many individuals and groups supporting those in need.

But The Recorder missed an important 3-hour Saturday event on the common.  I was grateful to find about 30 people spread across the common and at each of the four corners, when I arrived shortly after 9am (the scheduled start of the Racial Justice Rising vigil).  Slowly entering along the sidewalk with my three newly-made signs, I was stopped by friends from Turners Falls requesting a sign…and I offered them two signs: “Love One Another // Racism Kills” and “Ahmaud Arbery / killed for Running while Black,” which they were grateful to have.  I went searching for a space open enough for me in the spread-out crowd, with one sign hung from around my neck: “Outrage and Grief over Police Killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd”.  We came together.

There were many others with signs, such as “I can’t breathe,” “In solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” “White Silence = Violence,” all in support of justice for George Floyd, murdered by police in Minneapolis on May 25th.  While their community had risen up demanding the arrest of all four policemen involved, demonstrating every day, many people in our own community felt called to stand together.  The crowd grew to over 100 caring neighbors, some even chanting from the corners “Black Lives Matter!”, some silent, some sharing their feelings and experiences with me when asked.  (Only later did I hear news from around the world, demonstrations in so many communities, against racist killings in the US.)

At one point a young woman asked if she could take my photograph, identifying herself from The Recorder, and I agreed.  Realizing I had the two extra signs clipped behind the large one, I pulled them out and she photographed them as I held them side-by-side.  Soon after 11am, we all heard the sirens and horns as the GHS Graduation Parade of cars drove by, from the west along Main St., led by two police cars, with one stopping to block the intersection as the honking and waving celebrants drove by with all the vigilers waving and cheering them on, as they went by and around the corner up Federal St., with two fire trucks and an ambulance bringing up the rear with their special horns.  I can only wonder if this vigil for black lives will be remembered with the other unique experiences of their “physical separation” graduation.  What do they understand of 400 years of racist US history, of decades of oppression and poverty, of mass incarceration, of police abuses and killings, of these recent deaths?  Will they think about this rally on the common by people who care about “the other” as “brother” or “sister”?

About 30 minutes after the Graduation Parade, Moonlight and Morningstar arrived, having led a car caravan honking through many other towns into Greenfield.  Others helped to unload and set up platform and sound system for the afternoon spirited rally.   With opening blessing, singing, sharing grief about oppression and hope of joining together, people felt grateful to be together, united.  Meanwhile Trump orders more violence against the peaceful demonstrators and we fear losing our democracy under oppression. We must come together for justice, realizing that we are all inter-dependent, and that we can make choices for the betterment of the Commons, of the Nation, of all Peoples, of Mother Earth.  That includes standing up publicly – for love and compassion, for sharing and caring, for everyone’s right to life.  Keep watching when our “leaders” call peaceful demonstrators “terrorists” to be violently put down and speak up before it is too late for you.  I’ll stand with you.

Suzanne R. Carlson lives in Greenfield and is a Board member of Traprock Center for Peace & Justice and of Visioning BEAR Circle Intertribal Coalition