Dear SEEN Community,
SEEN is a group of individuals brought together by a single mission, but as we have said before, we are not a monolithic group. We are parents, educators, and community members invested in promoting equity in the Saratoga Springs City School District. To reflect some of these voices, we will begin to occasionally include guest writers on our weekly emails, starting this week with Adam Tinkle.*
With renewed protests, both nationally and locally, met with renewed police violence, we might wonder: how does, or should, SEEN’s ongoing work for educational equity relate to the ongoing movements – for Black lives and for police reform – that contributed to birthing our organization? This week’s guest writer explores the practice of civil disobedience.
The current movement for racial justice – the moment of collective reckoning in which SEEN was born – was sparked by the killing of George Floyd, Jr in May 2020. But visible acts of police violence alone are clearly not enough to motivate governments or other institutions towards change. Rather, the force that finally moved the needle towards the (incomplete) moment of awakening and transformation that we’re now in the throes of was civil disobedience: the Black Lives Matter protests that filled our streets last year.
Marching in or occupying streets in ways that may block car traffic is a gentle form of “civil disobedience”: intentionally disobeying certain laws as a form of protest. Any history of Civil Rights struggles in the U.S. – from bus boycotts to lunch counter sit-ins to school desegregation – is unimaginable without civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is sure to remain a key strategy in the movement for Black Lives, even as more institutional and bureaucratic work for racial justice and equity is increasingly taken up – with varied levels of sincerity and success – by school districts, police departments, city councils, and myriad other organizations over the past year.
- League of Women Voters “Meet the School Board Candidates” Forum: Tonight (May 5) at 7pm. Stream on SSCSD website.
- A Seat At This Table: Monday, May 24. Register here to listen to parent perspectives.
- Save the date for SEEN’s Birthday Bash: Books & Ice Cream on June 12!
Educate yourself about civil disobedience, as you consider if and how you might participate in or support upcoming protests. The term was coined in 1848 by Henry David Thoreau, when he refused to pay his taxes as a protest against slavery. This article offers 15 global and historical examples of civil disobedience movements that made a difference – many of which you may not have heard of. There’s also a long history of children and youth involvement in protest movements. Meanwhile, evidently noting how successful last summer’s BLM protests were, lawmakers in many states are harshly criminalizing protest.
Explore a story of local civil disobedience: At a protest on April 14, Albany police Lt. Devin Anderson injured Saratoga-based activist Chandler Hickenbottom with her own megaphone. Lt. Anderson has previously been accused of using racial slurs and excessive force in this public lawsuit. In response, a group of young activists – including Hickenbottom, Lexis Figuereo, and Samira Sangare – organized an occupation of Arch Street, outside Albany Police Department’s South Station, demanding the release of officers’ disciplinary records and the firing of Anderson.
On April 22, after a 5-day occupation and with just 15 minutes’ warning to evacuate, Albany police in riot gear formed a line and advanced on the protesters with shields and batons. Many officers concealed their badges in violation of APD policy (follow-up is expected from the NYCLU). Eight protesters were arrested, and one went to the hospital. These moments were documented by the Times Union (which produced this visual timeline), and, even more vividly, in a short video by YouthFX founder Bhawin Suchak.
The fallout from the event continues to rock the region. The activists who planned the occupation, in collaboration with the Center for Law and Justice and All of Us, have followed up with numerous events to spread awareness of what happened, including press conferences and community conversations which can be viewed via the CFLJ and All of Us Facebook pages. Organizers with the Black Trans and LGBTQ communities have lawsuits in the works. Further Albany protests are scheduled for Thursday 5/6 at 5pm (Albany South Station), and Saturday 5/8 at 1:30 (location TBD).
- Have the Conversations. After digesting the above resources, have a conversation with your friends, children, and other loved ones about civil disobedience – when do you think it is acceptable, and important, to engage in this form of protest?
- Locate a “Protest Buddy.” If you feel yourself drawn toward protesting, but haven’t been involved so far, you might consider locating a “protest buddy” – someone whose judgment and instincts you trust, whose tolerance for risk is similar to yours, and who you’d enjoy attending a protest with.
- Make a Sign in Advance. Protests are responses to an ever-changing landscape, and they’re often called with little notice. My advice: spray paint over an old campaign sign in a dark color, and use a brush to write on top of it in white. Once the protest is done, you can plant it on your lawn. This is also a wonderful project to do with kids, where you can be creative while you discuss what message to write and why it matters.
Want to go further? Check out the resources tab on the SEEN website for Adam’s take on protesting with kids.
Thanks to the SEEN team for inviting me to write this guest column. If you’re interested in delving deeper into the convergence of parenting and politics, I’d love to talk: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Adam Tinkle, a district parent and father to Alice (8) and Milo (5), has supported the work of the Police Reform Task Force and other regional advocates for racial justice, through writing, research, organizing, and taking to the streets. A musician, media artist, and educator, he directs MDOCS (the John B. Documentary Studies Collaborative) at Skidmore College.
~ The SEEN Team