Radical: one who favors drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.
Even though I have been labeled a “radical” on more than one occasion, I do not consider myself to be any more radical than the average, moderately cognizant citizen. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this country has been on a steep and steady decline for quite some time, and that any change short of a radical one just isn’t going to cut it.
That being said, if you stood me next to some of my friends, you would find that on the radical scale (if such a thing existed), I would be hovering somewhere slightly above “Pollyanna,” while most of them would fall someplace in the “Bakunin” area. However, over the years, I have watched my worldview shift and change so many times that I really hate to label myself as anything other than “logical” these days. And in this country, at this particular point in history, logic, my friends, seems to have left the building.
I recently went down to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with several of my activist friends. We spent our nights sleeping in the basement of the Arch Street Methodist Church and our days attending a handful of the many protests that were taking place in the city. The experience is something I will never forget, and while I have been to large demonstrations before, I had never been to anything that massive in scale. People converged on Philadelphia to march for a myriad of reasons: disenchantment with the political process, outrage at the lack of accountability for police, frustration with unfair drug laws, and anguish over our never-ending policy of war, just to name a few.
There are a lot of people who are very unhappy with the direction our country is going, and even though we may not have changed a thing that week, there is definitely something to be said for being around so many passionate, like-minded people. It’s both empowering and invigorating. Even the bigots from Westboro Baptist Church managed to crawl out from under their rock and make their way up to the circus. While I am still not exactly sure what it was they were protesting (besides everyone else’s “good time”), it was kind of fun to watch them in all of their magnificent impotence. They stood spewing their hateful rhetoric as the rest of us gathered and laughed at their expense.
For the most part, the marches that I attended were fairly typical, with the exception of two very powerful moments that made the discomfort of sleeping on the floor of a hot-as-balls church totally worth it. One moment consisted of removing a flag, the other consisted of burning one.
During Monday’s march, while heading down Broad Street towards the convention site, someone from our group noticed a large Mississippi flag flying from the lamppost (for those not familiar with the MS flag, the confederate flag is solidly placed in its upper right hand corner). A chant of “Take down that flag!” quickly began, and the rest of us decided to sit in the middle of the street, not moving until the flag came down. As we baked in the hot sun, sitting on the black asphalt, there were several failed attempts to pull down the offending target with a makeshift lanyard. The lanyard eventually snapped, and we all just sat, gazing up at the symbol of everything that we were there to fight against.
As time went on, several people began singing, “All we are saying, is take down that flag,”to the tune of Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” and I began to wonder if someone was formulating a Plan B. Just when it looked like nothing was going to happen, I saw a large truck make it’s way through the crowd, and cheers began to ring out. The city had actually sent someone to take down the flag. It may not seem like a big deal now, but on that day, in that heat, after almost an hour of chanting and yelling, it was a very powerful moment. We may not have changed the world in which that flag is able to exist, but it was a much-needed “symbolic” win.
The following day, we marched with #BLM to City Hall and headed back down to the convention site where several large demonstrations were converging. The “people’s candidate,” Vermin Supreme, was doing his thing, while his one-man rallying crew kept us entertained on a portable PA system. Not far (enough) away, some Bernie people were singing their “We Are in This Together” song that I had heard them singing the day before. I don’t know if they got any sleep or not, but they seemed to have the same level of zeal as when I had initially seen them. At this point, after working on only three hours of sleep myself and spending what felt like eternity in the hot sun, I was thoroughly over their zombie-like optimism, and would have happily taken a water cannon to them if it would have shut them up.
As people from all of the different marches began to arrive and converge on the gate, tensions got a little high. There were handwritten notes and cards wedged in between the metal mesh of the fence that were being lit on fire, and the chants began to get a bit more heated. The differences in philosophy between the people gathered in close proximity to each other became apparent, as minor verbal scuffles began to take place. At one point, some signs and even a small flag were gathered and set on fire, directly in front of the entrance. It angered some and delighted others.
As I stood there taking it all in, I found it fascinating that, just like on the inside of the convention, we on the outside were also not very unified. There seemed to be varying degrees of anger, some expressing it with hollow song, and others expressing it with fire. Activists have different ideas of how to get things done and different comfort levels of how far they are willing to go in the fight. I found my boundaries being tested, and while I may not agree with how someone else chooses to express themselves, I understand they don’t require my approval, just as I don’t require theirs. If we look past the fake outrage, we will find, in the end, that we are all just trying to figure this shit out.
After the fire subsided with the help of an extinguisher, so did the intensity of the crowd. We decided to grab some drinks and call it a night. On the walk back, I thought about how much I was going to miss the city. Not only did I fall in love with Philadelphia–and the people who I shared space with while I was there–I fell in love with a moment in time that I know can never be recreated.
My evolution as a human being is continually taking me in different directions, and I would not have it any other way. Sometimes we need to be taken out of our comfort zone to experience true growth, and sometimes we need to be willing to expose ourselves to things we would not ordinarily condone in order to better understand them. I don’t have to agree with an action to understand where it is coming from, and I do not have to justify my actions to someone who takes none. So you can call me what you will, whether it be a “radical,” an “idealist,” or just plain “crazy.” What I have come to accept is that, more often than not, I will be misunderstood.
Author: Cynthia Tarana is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.
Contact Cynthia at email@example.com
Photography credit: Louis Mazzei