EDINBURG — With loud voices on both sides of the aisle dominating conversation in the wake of protests, demonstrations and riots that have sprung up across the country following the death of George Floyd last month, the Black Lives Matter on the Border discussion here at the gazebo near city hall Thursday was marked by the amount of listening that went on.
Floyd, a black man, died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest.
Misael Ramirez, founder of the activist group Craft Cultura, was one of the event’s organizers and acted as a moderator for the discussion. He said the event was held to stand in solidarity with black victims of police brutality and with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We have a history of violence here on the border. We know what it is to suffer at the hands of white supremacy. Police brutality. These aren’t riots that are going on, these are conscious rebellions,” he said.
Ramirez said Wednesday’s turnout, a little over 50 people, was a sign of how activism has been aided by technology in recent years.
“Three days ago this wasn’t planned, but I’m inspired by this new generation. When I was 18, 10 years ago, this wasn’t happening,” he said. “We weren’t talking about Black Lives Matter. We weren’t talking about LGBTQ rights. We weren’t talking about white supremacy — we had no language for these terms, so it’s beautiful that 10 years later, you all mobilize really quick. You all use social media to go from online to offline.”
Ramirez opened the floor to the audience after he’d outlined what he hoped the discussion would accomplish. About a dozen individuals walked from the crowd to the gazebo and shared their experiences with race and racism in America.
Some of the speakers were teachers and professors. Others were activists. One was a new dad.
Some were men and some were women. Some were black, and others were Latino.
“Today we’re here to check in with each other, share how we feel,” Ramirez told the audience before the addresses began. “Vent, cry, yell, whatever you feel and want to get off your chest, today is the day to be heard.”
There was some crying and a good deal of cussing. Some speakers got heated, but for the most part they just told stories and shared their perspectives.
Sometimes the peoples’ stories were explicitly political in a partisan sense; other times they called for an end to the capitalist system or an overhaul of law enforcement. Frequently though, they just talked about everyday racism and what they felt they could do about it.
Sofia Velazquez, a teacher, was one of the speakers to focus on the little picture.
“I feel that I fall short when it comes to social media, and not just reposting and retweeting and hash tagging and posting a temporary profile picture, but in not holding my friends, my acquaintances, accountable,” she said. “I see racist things being said and it’s easier for me to unfriend, it’s easier for me to unfollow.”
Velazquez said that in her view, drawing away from that dialogue, not addressing, is part of the problem.
“So I’m challenging myself, whenever I see something on social media to speak up, to have that conversation. Whether or not anything comes out of it is irrelevant, just so that I know that I’m doing my part every day,” she said.