Upon the one year anniversary of the Baltimore Uprising and the murder of Freddie Gray, I noticed something very big missing from activism in the city, something that was there and prominent this time last year—us. Where were all of my fellow college students when the hype died down? Where were the student-headed efforts, protests, teach-ins, and carpools fighting for change? This realization, more than anything, forced me to examine my role in this absence and what I could do to reverse it.
As a co-leader of People United, a direct action activist club on campus, I decided my activist project would best function to support a preexisting cause rather than starting something wholly new. I looked to one of my activist heroes, Tawanda Jones, and her West Wednesday protests for inspiration. In July of 2013, 44 year old Tyrone West was brutalized by a Baltimore City Police Officer after being racially profiled, he died in custody. Every Wednesday since his death his sister Tawanda Jones has protested to “put killer cops in cell blocks” and fought to reopen his case.
I wondered why I had not been able to make it out to these weekly demonstrations in the past and one thing stood out—transportation. It follows that there were more students like me on campus who had a yearning to get out to city protests, but who lacked the resources to get there. My second step was to get the word out, fortunately I was able to strike up a partnership with our Black Student Union, working with their activist head Barellie Thompson to spread the news to its membership and on social media.
(An infographic I designed for the first carpool)
With my fellow co-leaders, Emily Frias and Sarafina Harper we completed our first of three carpools on March 16th, though it was only the three of us starting out we had a great time and were very active in the protest.
The discrepancy between these attendance numbers and the issue itself was that police brutality and murders continues to this day in epidemic numbers. But the “out of sight out of mind” mentality that you especially get on a college campus functioned as a thick haze which was hard to see through. This haze was a major setback to us, especially when it came to numbers. Following up by messaging everyone who expressed any interest on our Facebook events the day before, I was disheartened to see that 20 “interested/goings” only equated to 2-3 “comings”. Oh Facebook.
The second carpool brought out more people from Baltimore itself than our campus (but we were happy about anyone coming out because of our carpool). We were even able to give rides home to people living in the city that joined us. This West Wednesday was in conjunction with Baltimore’s Light City Festival and many prominent activists in the community came out. The most poignant part of the night, in addition to hearing various speakers, was the projections (by Luminous Interventions) on the McKeldin Fountain dedicated to victims of police brutality.
The captivating projections on the McKeldin Fountain (Picture courtesy of Tawanda Jones)
For me it was very emotional to see the magnitude of those affected while being among their friend’s and family, especially in the form of such a compellingly powerful piece of art. Needless to say it got real for all of us, and as we placed flowers in front of memorials dedicated to different victims throughout the fountain we were met with a new sense of dedication to get more students out to West Wednesdays to experience exactly the same thing.
(A memorial with flowers inside of the structure of the fountain)
A surprise we encountered was the lack of turn out from our partnership with the BSU, at the end of the day we got zero members to attend any of our protests, despite the fact that UMBC’s BSU was actively organizing and educating last spring. At one meeting in particular, I decided to put out a sign-up sheet for those with any interest and while about 70-80 students attended, zero signed up. This harsh feedback really spoke to me and I discovered that maybe I was not getting the message out the right way.
Where did I have a following? What was I good at? These questions lead me to, with the BSU activist chair, make a Facebook video for our third carpool. Within the week this video received 600 views and spread the word of the carpool like wildfire! If I were to do this project over again I would get a video like this out our first carpool and create a following from there. While this was a learning experience I underestimated the impact that a short informative Facebook video could have. I now have a relationship with activism where I can better analyze what to bring to the table and how to better get out a message.
(Check out the video HERE)
By our third carpool, this is what UMBC’s student attendance looked like:
Carpool #3 (Pictured also are activists Tawanda Jones and JC Faulk in the center)
It was a hit and everyone who came out was expressed to us that they would come out again and bring friends as well. One of our carpoolers even sung a powerful tribute while another UMBC student gave amazing testimony and a speech (same vide0). Sarafina Harper was even asked to speak at an upcoming West Wednesday on the one-year anniversary of Gray’s arrest (pictured below).
Thanks to this activist project we now have a strong foundation plus network of students and even some faculty who have offered their cars, support, and selves to our West Wednesday carpools. I plan to continue these carpools into next semester and have learned an invaluable lesson about how a seemingly small service, like transportation, can make a huge difference when you’re willing to dedicate yourself to the cause.
-Emily Eaglin, Spring 2016